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Daring Dance in Dallas: Charles Santos on the 2016/17 TITAS Season

Daring Dance in Dallas: Charles Santos on the 2016/17 TITAS Season

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet opens the TITAS Presents season on Sept. 16-17 at Dallas City Performance Hall.
Pictured: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancers Anthony Tiedeman and Seia Rassenti.
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

TITAS Presents Executive Director Charles Santos Photo by Jarad.
TITAS Presents Executive Director Charles Santos
Photo by Jarad.

Dallas is a strong dance city for many reasons, TITAS Presents at AT&T Performing Arts Center being one of them. But it all comes down to the reach and knowledge of the man behind Dallas’s well-known dance presenting organization, executive director Charles Santos. Arts + Culture editor Nancy Wozny visited with Santos on the new season, his favorite festivals and his mission to bring world class dance to Dallas.

How do you think of selecting the season as a creative process?

I have a general rule that I won’t bring something to TITAS/Dallas unless I’ve seen it. Too often, a description of a work or a video does not really convey the reality of a work and its impact on an audience. So I travel to see works frequently. Now with any rule, there are always exceptions. I can’t always travel to see works or a work is being developed and I have to make a leap of faith. So I talk to people that I really trust, from a taste perspective, if I really want a particular company or work that I cannot see. In the case of Kidd Pivot’s masterpiece Betroffenheit, I knew so much about Crystal Pite’s body of work and my faith in the producers in Canada that I personally knew, so I took the leap of faith and booked the company with this work sight unseen. But this is rare for me to do these days. We presenters travel a lot to see work. June Christensen, my colleague in Houston, and I talk frequently about what companies we are each looking at and see what we can do to support each other’s schedules and interests.

Where do you like to dance company shop?

APAP, the international booking conference, is by far the best place to see many companies on a single trip. As an international presenter, most of the consulates from foreign countries invite us to their countries to see their artists. As a guest of foreign consulates, this is where I see many of the most interesting festivals and dance companies. Dance Exposure in Israel is great because we generally see thirty Israeli companies in five days. It’s a grueling schedule of performances and meetings, but it’s a great opportunity to see the wide breadth of artists coming from Israel.

I know! I went last year. Where are you heading this year?

This year I’m scheduled to go to the Shanghai Festival in China and to a festival in Seoul, South Korea. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of companies there are in China and in South Korea. France is also producing terrific companies and works. I’m invited there frequently and I am hoping to attend the Biennale in Lyon France this late summer to see several international companies. As a presenter, I am always looking for international companies that represent what is currently happening culturally in the respective countries. Jacob’s Pillow in the U.S. is always a great platform to see great companies and exciting emerging companies. Cinars in Montreal is another great festival and conference where I get to see many excellent Canadian artists.

TITAS presents Bridgman|Packer on Jan. 27-28 at Dallas City Performance Hall. Photo courtesy of the artists.
TITAS presents Bridgman|Packer on Jan. 27-28 at Dallas City Performance Hall.
Photo courtesy of the artists.

Let’s get to the season and some of the gems making a Dallas stop. Dallas has had an ongoing love affair with Jessica Lang, and rightly so; she’s had a stellar career. I think it’s safe to say that you played a part in that. It’s great that the Dallas community can keep this relationship up, but how do you see the Lang/Dallas connection?

Jessica and I have become very good friends over the years, working together on many projects. TITAS has been a part of several commissioning projects with her and Jessica Lang Dance. I think my business is all about relationships. I invest a great deal of time and energy in developing lasting relationships with artists and agents that I respect. This only enhances our ability to negotiate excellent tours and to ensure we get the works we want for Dallas. It’s been very exciting being a part of Jessica Lang’s career and watching it take off so successfully. I have tremendous respect for her work and for her as an artist. When I got married last fall, Jessica sent a solo performance as a wedding gift. Needless to say, it was fabulous!

Texas debuts are always an exciting part of the TITAS season and you have brought artists here that I never expected to land in Texas. Is it in your mission to bring new artists each season and is there a bit of a risk in that?

I think it is part of my responsibility to push the audience forward and to also establish Dallas, TITAS Presents and the AT&T Performing Arts Center as avenues for the creation of new work. Our city and our partnership with the Center are equally committed to establishing that commitment to fostering new work and to the creative process. TITAS has always commissioned new works, but we are now commissioning bigger works with our partners, such as the world premiere of the Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour. We commission a new work every year for our gala, and we have two large-scale commissioning projects already lined up with companies for our next two seasons. Dance is tough, and we believe it is our responsibility to further the field of dance by presenting a carefully curated season, exposing audiences to new works and to regularly commissioning new works from interesting artists.

I am thrilled to see that the delightful couple of Bridgman|Packer Dance is on the roster. They are pioneers in the use of film and the moving body. What attracted you to their work?

Exactly what you said, “pioneers in the use of film and the moving body.” I look at their work as less of a dance company and more a performance art work that uses movement and film as its medium. The work is so engaging and so creative. I think in the tapestry that is a TITAS dance season, audiences are going to be surprised, excited and amazed by their art form.

Che Malambo is also making its Texas debut. Give us a taste of what to expect?

It’s a testosterone fest! Seriously though, they are selling out across North America. An all-male troupe of dancers, they are exciting, masculine, physical and exhausting. Audiences have loved the performance experience.

TITAS presents Doug Varone and Dancers on Feb. 19 at Winspear Opera House. Photo by Grant Halverson.
TITAS presents Doug Varone and Dancers on Feb. 19 at Winspear Opera House. Photo by Grant Halverson.

It’s also great news to me that Doug Varone is returning. He has had an extraordinary career for a mid-size company, which can be so vulnerable in these lean days. How do you see Varone’s signature in the dance world?

I’ve always been a big fan of Doug and his work, which I find very “human.” He knows how to incorporate pedestrian and street movement into gloriously crafted choreography. I think his dancers are very relatable to the audience. They are all very well trained, but they always retain their individuality even in unison movement. Doug is a terrific craftsman as a choreographer and dancer. He knows how to use a stage. I never feel like he’s trying to be anything other than the artist that he is. His work is honest, well crafted and beautifully performed. He has always been a favorite of mine.

I see several Texas favorites on the list in Ailey, Diavolo, Pilobolus and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, which allows TITAS audiences to follow these groups over time. Tell me why it’s important to have companies return over and over.

As a presenter I have to look at the bigger picture of what a season looks like any given year, but more importantly I have to look at what the brand, TITAS Presents, means to the public. I have to build audiences, retain audiences and engage audiences all at the same time. So our seasons are always a mixture of TITAS favorites, new discoveries and bold works. It’s all about balance and engagement.

How would you say that Dallas’s dance audiences are evolving?

I think we truly saw the growth of the Dallas dance audience when we presented Kidd Pivot’s extraordinary Betroffenheit. This was a work of genius but it is also a difficult work in that it deals with powerful themes and it is a dance-theater work: progressive, in your face, sophisticated and powerful. A respected colleague of mine here in Dallas said it was remarkable to see how the Dallas audience has developed. These performances received glowing reviews and standing ovations at both performances. She said this could never have been presented with this level of success 10 years ago. TITAS has exposed our audiences to a wide array of amazing artists and works. Some push the audience’s limits; some works amaze audiences, some offend them and some purely delight them. But the end result is well-educated dance audiences open to and wanting more. Dallas’s dance audience is definitely growing and wanting more.

—NANCY WOZNY