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Avant Chamber Ballet: Look How Far They’ve Come byManuelMendoza

atieCooperdidn’t expect success to arrive so quickly. “I’msurprised howfast ithas allhappened,” says the artisticdirector of Avant ChamberBallet, “especially gettingpermissiontodo theBalanchine pieces…Mywishlist for the company is getting shorter for sure.”


Frustratedby the lackof livemusic accompanyingballetperformances in NorthTexas,Cooper foundedAvant in2012whenshewas stillknownas KatiePuder.One ofher firstmoveswas to recruitDallasSymphony OrchestraprincipalhornplayerDavidCooper asmusicaldirector. They’re nowmarried.

Their first showfeaturedfour shortPuderworks accompaniedby a small chamber group.Fast-forwardfour years toAvant’sMarchconcert at DallasCityPerformanceHall,where theprogramincluded Balanchine’s WhoCares?. The company’s renditionof thepiece fueledby Gershwintunes isprobably itshighest achievement todate.Shea Johnsonandthe threewomenhe tookturnspartneringmade it look effortless.Andthat’s thepoint.

Pictured:ACBdancers inKatie Cooper’s“EndlessArc” at the first year of the “Women’s Choreography Project.” Photo: SharenBradford

rapher (April 20-21).ChristmasCarolwill be set to a commissionedscore fromresident composerChaseDobson, continuingAvant’smissionof bringing thewarmthandimmediacy of livemusical accompaniment to its shows. The seasonwill againopenwithCooper’s Nutcracker: Short and Suite (Nov. 17) at aSouthlake church.

Two concerts are left onthe company’s 2015-16 schedule,mostnotably the secondeditionof theWomen’sChoreographyProject,whichCooper start- edlast seasonto bringmore attentionto femaledance-makers.Especially intheballetworld, she sees a lackof opportunities forwomenchoreogra- phers. This year, two applicants stoodout:SouthernMethodistUniversity graduateShaunaDavis andQuebec-basedJanieRichards.Bothwillpre- mierenewworks.

Pictured: Yulia Ilina,EugeneBarnes III in “Raymonda.” Photo by: SharenBradford

“It’s like a fluffballet,”Cooper explains. “Youhave tomake it looklike nothing – jazzy andeasy andyou’re just throwing it off.But it’s crazy technicallyhard.You’re always off balance, andyou’rehamming itup.”

She credits the growthofherdancers. “Alot of thewomenIhiredwere right out of college or thiswas their first real company job.Andtheyhave all steppedupto theplate,whichiswonderful to see as adirector.Weno longer looklike apickupcompany.We really looklike a resident company where everyone isdancing together.We’re somuchmore cohesive.And the camaraderie aroundthathas growna lot.”

The troupe rehearses four or fivedays aweekinsteadof three, andmost of thedancershave givenuptheirday jobs. This season,Cooper also landedanother experiencedmale companymember,EugeneBarnes, whodancedfor 10 yearswithCarolinaBallet.AndAvanthas graduated fromsmall suburbanvenues to the 750-seatDallasCityPerformanceHall intheheart of theArtsDistrict.Next season, the companyplans three multi-night runs at thedowntownhall.

They include thepremiere ofCooper’s ABalletChristmasCarol (Dec. 15-16) inwhicha bitter oldballetmistress experiences flashbacks ofherpreviousdancepartners; a revival ofCooper’s first full-length ballet, Alice inWonderland (Feb. 11-12); andamixedrepertoryprogram thatmay include a commissionednewworkfromaNewYorkchoreog-

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DavisdancedbrieflywithJoshua L.Peugh’sDarkCirclesContemporary Dance, a company that sharedthe stagewithAvant onMarch4 atDallas CityPerformanceHall.Cooperwas struckby the contrast betweenthe twopieces thatDavis submitted. “Shedida great job of capturingdiffer- ent feelings.”NowbasedinNewYork, she’s creatingwhatCooper calls a “darkandbrooding”piece set to aSchumanntrio. Thedancerswear flat shoes anddarkdresses, andfourmirrorswill be suspendedfromthe ceil- ing. “It’s a littlebit of a commentary onmodernlife andthemodernpace of life,”Cooper says.

Richards’proposal grabbedCooper’s attentionwitha glossy layout and every aspect fromlights to costumes to curtainplacementdetailed.Set to Vivaldi’sWinter, it’ll beperformedonpointe andincludes twomen, seven womenanda corpsdeballet. The femaledancerswear romanticwhite tutus. Thepiece also boasts theatrical elements thatCooperwon’t reveal. “Ithas a lot of concept to it,” she says, “andverywelldonepartnering work.”

Cooperhas twonewpieces ontheprogramherself: a short solo forEmily Dixonandher take onHarlequinade, the commediadell’artepreviously choreographedbyPetipa andlaterBalanchine. “TheRussianversionused a lot ofpantomime andBalanchinedidn’t.He toldthe story throughthe dancing.We’llhave a little bit of the story,but it’s a chance touse great costumes andgreatmusic.”Harlequinade opens the show, “thenwe get darker andmore adult.”

ManuelMendozamoonlights as the dance critic ofTheDallasMorningNewswhen he’snot ignoringhis DFWDance blog.


DANCE!NORTHTEXAS a publication of the dance council of north texas vol. 19 • no. 2

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