Dallas DanceFest Returns

IMAGE ABOVE: Movers Unlimited.  Photo courtesy of the Artists.

Body Art photo courtesy of the artists.

Body Art
photo courtesy of the artists.

“It’s the best dance festival ever!” arts patron and producer Gayle Halperin says with a chuckle about Dallas DanceFest, her newest baby. Maybe someday, but for now it’s enough that Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas are recognizing that the growth spurt of the past three or four years—with new companies popping up all over the region—deserves an umbrella event. It’s the next step toward creating something akin to a scene.

DanceFest taps a Labor Day tradition that began in 1985 with outdoor performances by Dancers Unlimited, Ballet Dallas and Dallas Black Dance Theatre, about the only games in town at the time. Under numerous names at various venues, including The Dallas Morning News Dance Festival at Annette Strauss Square, the festival operated for 20 years before running out of steam in 2004.

Budgeted at $80,000 not counting in-kind contributions, DanceFest moves the show indoors to Dallas City Performance Hall, where the work of 16 groups, selected from 47 applications by Halperin and her team of curators, can be professionally produced, including lighting by the marvelous Tony Tucci. Each company receives a $200 stipend and performs a work no longer than 10 minutes on one of the festival’s two nights, Aug. 29-30. Then on the afternoon of Aug. 31, the accomplishments of local dance figures will be recognized at the annual Dance Council Honors, with performances by two festival troupes and Dance Council scholarship winners.

Bruce Wood Dance Project Photo by Brian Guilliaux.

Bruce Wood Dance Project
Photo by Brian Guilliaux.

The area’s three most seasoned companies, Texas Ballet Theater, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the Bruce Wood Dance Project, are on the DanceFest program as invited participants. The others—chosen by Halperin, performing arts presenter Charles Santos, dance instructor Kim Abel, dancer-choreographer Christopher Vo, tap dancer Misty Owens, and classical Indian dance teacher Revathi Satyu—include well-known local ballet and modern dance groups (Avant Chamber Ballet, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), out-of-towners (BODYART of New York, Chado Danse of Kansas City, MET Dance of Houston), ensembles affiliated with area educational institutions (Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Dance Repertory I and II, Movers Unlimited of Tarrant County College, Southern Methodist University Dance Ensemble), ballet school companies (Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Chamberlain Performing Arts, Dallas Ballet Company, Mejia Ballet International), an ethnic troupe (Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation) and a tap group (Rhythmic Souls). Dallas dance writer Manuel Mendoza visited Halperin to get the story.

Michelle Gifford of Avant Chamber Ballet. Photo by Edwin Watson.

Michelle Gifford of Avant Chamber Ballet. Photo by Edwin Watson.

A+C:  How is DanceFest different from the old Dallas Morning News Dance Festival?

GAYLE HALPERIN:  We’re moving the whole thing inside into a beautiful state-of-the-art building with reserved seats. Just the move inside elevates the whole nature of the festival, changes the whole concept. You’re going from an outdoor event, which was pretty much a picnic, very relaxed. You didn’t have to pay attention to all the dances. You could watch what you wanted to, and you didn’t have to be on your best behavior. Now people are going to pay attention and make sure they have their cell phones turned off.

A+C:  Why bring it back?

GH:  Dance people have long memories.It got under everybody’s skin, and it was a Labor Day tradition. It was a great opportunity to show your work. We said we would someday bring it back; we were just waiting for the right time. Now is the right time because of that beautiful Dallas City Performance Hall.

 Dallas Black Dance Theatre Photo by Steven Ray.

Dallas Black Dance Theatre
Photo by Steven Ray.

A+C:  Is it also a sign that something is happening in the Dallas dance scene? What is that?

GH:  The dance scene is growing. It’s exciting. There are more dancers here now and it’s energetic and people want to create. I think we’ve seen a surge in dance audiences. We’ve seen a surge in dancers staying here or coming back here. We’ve seen a surge in companies. The dance field is coming into its own right now, and I feel if we don’t seize the moment then it may dwindle. We have to keep pushing right now. Now is the time.

A+C:  What were your selection criteria?

GH:  You had to be a Dance Council member and a nonprofit, or under a nonprofit umbrella. The basis was not whether we liked your piece or not but whether it fit into the whole. We were not adjudicating the choreography; we were curating. We were looking for a match for the festival—pieces that are high-caliber and relevant to our region, done by emerging companies.

Dark Circles in Joshua L. Peugh's Marshmallow. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Dark Circles in Joshua L. Peugh’s Marshmallow.
Photo by Sharen Bradford.

A+C:  How does the festival help the participating companies?

GH:  This is the thing about dance: Dance is expensive to produce. That has been a factor affecting its growth. You have to rent rehearsal space, you want to have an ensemble of four, five, six dancers, and you should be paying them something. And you have other costs, from the rental of the performance space to the lighting designer to the tech crew and the marketing. To go into Dallas City Performance Hall and produce a Bruce Wood Dance Project show costs $100,000. And that’s not doable for our small-to-midsize groups. That’s why I think this festival is so important—for the small groups to be able to have the opportunity to present in a legitimate theater with a high-end crew.

A+C:  What kind of impact are you hoping for?

GH:  I want dance to take its place in Dallas as being as important any other art form. I’d like dance to be really recognized and looked forward to. There are a million people in Dallas, there should be a lot of dance happening. We just need to cultivate that, provide more opportunities, talk about it more and have more performances for people to see. I’m hoping to elevate the whole profile of dance.