She is an educator and an arts advocate, but for Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s "Director’s Choice," Lily Cabatu Weiss returns to her core artistic love: dance.
"Thrown for a Loop," the piece created by the Dallas Arts District’s executive director, will be featured in the dance company’s series November 2-4 at the Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District.
The daughter of first-generation Filipino parents, Weiss and her four sisters were immersed in cultural activities and developed a love for music through their piano lessons. Her father was in the Army and the family settled in El Paso at a time when the city’s public schools had dance classes. She developed a love for the physicality of dance and eventually, danced professionally. Her high school teacher’s commitment to her development inspired another professional ambition.
“I looked at my own education and I looked at the teachers who invested in me. The investment of time from a teacher I knew was going to make a tremendous amount of difference,” Weiss said. “Although I love performing, I always knew I would teach as well. That was never going to be a back-up plan. That was part of the plan.”
Weiss joined the staff of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in 1978, rising to be the coordinator of the dance department in 2001. In 2015, she became the school’s artistic director. She left the school in 2016 to become the executive director of the Dallas Arts District as it was developing a new infrastructure master plan to replace the Sasaki Plan.
“My philosophy in teaching is for students to listen to their heart because I’ve always done that, and it has not failed me,” Weiss said. “I was ready to practice what I preached and that was you have to be an advocate for the arts. You have to be the voice that protects what I consider really precious in this society.”
In addition to the new Dallas Arts District Master Plan, Weiss has been anticipating Dallas’ new cultural plan developed by City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs. The results of plan do not surprise her. “The top issues that came out of the plan were equity and diversity,” Weiss said, reflecting on ways to implement the plan. “What’s great about that is that we have to look at that in many aspects.”
Weiss crafted a new edit of “Thrown for a Loop,” a piece she originally choreographed in 2012 following the death of her mother. The dance explores loss and finding comfort in the solace of others, inspired by her and her sister’s collaborative care for their mother during her final illness. It is set to John Mackey’s classical contemporary score.
Her choreographic process begins with a title. “I have always been obsessed with titles of art in general: titles of music, titles of all forms of visual art, titles of poetry, title of books. So, if a title relates to an experience or a concept or a political statement I want to explore creatively, then I’ll start with a title and write with it. I’ve already identified either a composer or a sound score,” Weiss said.
Weiss created the piece for her Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts dancers when the school had several strong male dancers. The piece requires great stamina and features more male dancers than female dancers. “I tend to love the physicality in dance, but I also did not realize that in this eight-minute piece that it is highly driven, especially for men,” Weiss said.
The piece is perfect for Dallas Black Dance Theatre, a company Weiss admires for their ability to create emotional reflection in powerful ways. “They actually like to take a bite out any kind of physical movement. What is interesting about the company is to couple that with the backing off from that physicality at moments in time,” Weiss said. “You don’t want the same decibel from beginning to end. You’ve got to have those nuances in between.”