Getting three dance companies to perform together during a pandemic was as simple as a phone call for Katie Puder, Avant Chamber Ballet’s artistic director. “I just asked these wonderful women and they said yes. It was as easy as that,” Puder said.
“Together We Dance” will feature Avant Chamber Ballet, Bruce Wood Dance and Dallas Black Dance Theatre March 26 - 27 at Annette Strauss Square in the Dallas Arts District.
Puder envisioned an inspiring program, presenting a trio of ballets she choreographed with live music by Cezanne Quartet. In addition to The Seasons and Sisterhood, Avant Chamber Ballet will debut Schema, a new piece choreographed by Puder, set to the music of Phillip Glass.
“I need some happiness, some joy and some celebration of what the arts can do for us,” Puder said.
Bruce Wood Dance will perform Hide Me Angel, the last work Bruce Wood finished before his death in 2014. The male duet is a meditation on life, set to Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. “This will be our first opportunity to perform that this year,” Joy Bollinger, the artistic director of Bruce Wood Dance, said.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre will contribute Execution of a Sentiment. Choreographed by Darrell Grand Moultrie with music composed by Ezio Bosso, the work challenges dancers, exemplifying excellence focus, dedication, and the transformative power of dance.
“I try to think about who’s coming to the performance,” Melissa M. Young, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s artistic director, said. “The way it builds is something that audiences who have not been to a performance in a while might appreciate.”
Preparing for “Together We Dance” makes Puder feel more like herself after a year of dealing with the pandemic’s uncertainties.
“It’s not that we’re only dancers or only artists but that’s such an integrated part of who you are and how you express yourself. And then when you’re going through something not being able to use your art, and that is how you cope and how you express yourself since you were a tiny child. That is really life-changing and I think made the process of everything we went through last year that much harder,” Puder said.
Bollinger calls performing for a live audience “an exceptional treat.” “There’s a special connection with a presence of a person across from you. You’re feeling them as they are taking in what you are giving them,” she said.
Young recognizes there is a great responsibility in performing for audiences who are making the effort to come to a live performance during a pandemic. “We must perform with the most genuine heart and spirit and passion, no matter how long we are out onstage,” Young said. “We have to remind them, ‘This is why I support the arts.’”
The three dance companies have spent the last year working in different mediums, often filming performances to be released online.
Young recognizes through change and conflict comes growth. “It’s been an awakening experience in terms of the attention to detail. I feel like it takes at least three times the effort to produce for film,” she said. “It is so easy and possible to expand your audience and visibility with one virtual event.”
Every artistic endeavor has been packed with lessons for creating work in the future. “We have learned that adaptability is key. We have learned a tremendous amount about dance on film, how to create intimacy with your audience through a screen, how do we hold onto the things that are important to us while creating an entirely different product in some ways. It has been a good learning experience,” Bollinger said.
Puder has been questioning tradition and how it serves the industry – or does not. “This year has made me question why can’t we do X,Y and Z,” she said. “The world has changed in this year and our art has to too.”
In these three arts organizations, Dallas has something of a rarity: three dance companies led by women. “We’re very practical, thoughtful people. I function on the premise of why not us. Why not me? Why not Katie? Why not Joy?” Young said.
Puder remembers dreaming of being a choreographer and squashing her own hopes because she did not see female choreographers until she worked in Europe as a professional dancer. “I think that growing up, the next generation seeing women creating any kind of art they want and running organizations just opens up what you can do with your art,” Puder said.
Bollinger appreciates the community of her fellow female arts leaders. “I think it is empowering to young females. I’m a female artistic director and yet it strengthens me to know these women and to have relationships with them and to have this camaraderie. I feel supported,” Bollinger said.
Because of that camaraderie, “Together We Dance” is more than an artistic collaboration. “I’m excited for this community arts family reunion,” Young said.