Texas Studio: Bombshell Dance Project Goes Immersive

Long-time friends and former dancers for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman founded Bombshell Dance Project in Dallas in 2016. An early opportunity to perform their work at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2019 and later as part of ATTPAC’s Elevator Project at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas helped put their woman-led company on the map.

The company recently restaged In the Conservatory with the Knife, an interactive murder mystery, at Wyly Theatre, and they will be staging their take on Lord of the Flies later in the fall.

I talked with Bernet and Rodman about their approach to dance theater, why they choose to work with women, and how their years of collaboration shape their choreographic process and approach in the studio.

Your works are often interactive—and tell stories. What attracts you to dance theater?

Emily Bernet: Beyond making movement, we’re excited about storytelling. We’ve found that working across multiple media allows us to better tell our stories and connect with audiences. While movement is the biggest part of our process, we’re playing with text, set design, and physical theater to create richer worlds to get lost in.

Taylor Rodman: The complexity of layering spoken word on top of full-bodied movement is a crossover that currently excites us both as participants and viewers. Utilizing dance theater tools has also led to a lot of play in our rehearsal process, which often carries us to choices we likely wouldn’t have made otherwise.

You work almost exclusively with women. How does that shape your company?

TR: Bombshell was partially created on the desire to move in the grounded and athletic ways that choreographers, in our experience, mostly reserved for male dancers. Beyond that working with females gives us a baseline understanding of the instrument, and an often unspoken but felt sense of trust within the company.

EB: Bombshell was founded on a desire to create daring roles for women, and building leadership pathways for female identifying artists is at the heart of the company. We’ve created several works that speak to the female experience and have found that working with female-identifying artists allows us to fully dive into those experiences together in our creation process. It has allowed us to create work that reflects multiple perspectives and that everyone in the room has an equal stake in.

What qualities do you look for in a dancer?

TR: We are attracted to movers who take up space and open their eyes. We look for dancers who take an active role in the creation process, who follow their curiosities, and enjoy problem solving.

Bombshell just restaged a murder mystery project in November at Wyly Theater. I love the “retro” vibe of a murder mystery. What made you want to pursue that project?

EB: For the entire Bombshell team, working on a murder mystery just sounded like fun. In the Conservatory was our second project exploring audience involvement, and we were eager to create a fully immersive world. Building a mystery that asked our audience to hunt down clues felt like the perfect way to do that, and ultimately created a world that kept our audience moving, drew them in close, and got them talking to each other.

Bombshell also performed at Jacob’s Pillow in 2019 and as part of the ATTPAC Elevator Project. Both of those, especially the Jacob’s Pillow opportunity, came about relatively early on. (You were founded in 2016). How did those impact the company?

TR: In the first few years of the company we were generating a lot of work, which helped us find our voice relatively quickly. Early opportunities gave us unexpected green lights to keep creating.

EB: We were surprised and honored to have the opportunity to show our work at Jacob’s Pillow so early on. Performing at Inside/Out reminded us not to be afraid of going after our bigger goals.

What keeps you in Dallas? What’s your experience leading a dance company here?

EB: I love living in Dallas, and I love the arts community here. What really excites me is all of the open space for new artists to thrive. Dallas has both supported and challenged us in ways that have shaped the company and the projects we’ve dreamt up. We learn a lot by listening to our audiences and collaborating with the artists around us—and we see infinite opportunities to build, grow, and keep pushing boundaries here.

TR: We made In the Conservatory with the Knife because we noticed Dallas audiences were excited about immersive works. We see an appetite for new formats that makes us excited to create in Dallas.

What’s your relationship to music? How do you select music?

EB: Our work always starts with a feeling that becomes movement. From there we’ll layer in music that helps us tell the right story, working closely with a sound engineer to alter or compose new tracks that set the perfect tone.

TR: We often work with a mix of new soundscapes and familiar classical or popular tracks to create the same contrast and dynamics we value in our movement—to keep both us and the audience on our toes.

You founded Bombshell together. What’s it like to work together artistically? Do you create work together?

TR: Everything we do for Bombshell Dance Project has been a collaboration since day one. When we were students at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts [in Dallas], we would spend our lunch period in the dance studio choreographing together. Our twelve years of friendship and shared artistic taste has built a strong foundation of safety when approaching a new creation process. Creating collaboratively forces me to edit and opens my mind to possibilities I would not have come to on my own.

EB: As Taylor mentioned, working collaboratively helps us problem solve in real time. We love the feeling of creating something together that we could never have created on our own. As the company grows, we keep collaboration at the center of all of our work. From the dancers to the production team and even our audiences, we run a highly collaborative room. We encourage conversation and participation to help us create work that captures multiple perspectives.

What inspires you when you’re creating new work?

EB: Lately we’ve been inspired by games and problem solving. Our creative process relies equally on movement principles and devising techniques that help us tell clear stories.

TR: We’re interested in making Dance Theater approachable by reimagining familiar stories that get audiences engaged.

What’s next and are you most excited for when it comes to the future of Bombshell?

EB: In 2024 you’ll see us bringing dance to unexpected places (catch us at the Dallas Museum of Art this spring!) and diving deeper into immersive worlds (look out for our take on Lord of the Flies this fall). We are thinking a lot about the audience experience and new ways we can turn it on its head. We are also excited to introduce new choreographers to the Dallas community, and offer opportunities to train and workshop ideas through our summer Creation Labs.