Under the Texas Sky, Avant Chamber Ballet Debuts 2020-2021 Season

The Dallas ballet company begins its 2020-2021 season outdoors, dancing for a live audience for the first time since February.

Avant Chamber Ballet Season Premiere dancer Melissa Meng
Richard Hill

Starlight will join stage light for Avant Chamber Ballet’s season debut, “Season Premiere: Under the Stars” Nov. 6-7 at the Annette Strauss Square in the Dallas Arts District.

The premiere will mark the Dallas ballet company’s first performance for a live audience since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re taking every precaution possible. The great thing about dance is that there is no talking, no singing, no yelling involved and the performances are outdoors, which is a huge help to the safety of the dancers and the audiences,” Katie Puder, the company’s artistic director, said.

Avant Chamber Ballet’s studio in the Design District reopened for classes in the summer and the company has been working at the studio for a month. Dancers wear masks during rehearsals, have their temperatures checked regularly and frequently wash their hands. Dancers take lunch breaks outside on the studio’s back patio or front area.

Avant Chamber Ballet 2020-2021 season premiere rehearsal
Sean Sullivan
Dancers Tatum Grubb and Caroline Atwell wear masks while rehearsing "Ravel Violin Sonata" for Avant Chamber Ballet's 2020-2021 season premiere.

The studio has new UV light filters and Puder frequently opens the front and back doors to create cross ventilation. “We say it’s the wind tunnel because it can get a little breezy,” Puder said. “It feels like being outside.”

For the season premiere, the audience will sit on Strauss Square’s lawn, socially distanced and masked. Digital programs will be available for the one-hour performance. There will be no intermission. “We’re doing everything we can to make it a really safe, exciting show for everyone,” Puder said.

Safety precautions will be taken onstage as well. “The works I chose for this program are distanced productions so the dancers are dancing solos and duets and it’s a small cast so we’re able to space everything out and purposefully create work that makes dancers feel comfortable and gives them enough space to stay safe,” Puder said.

Some of the dancers can dance together. “Three of the company members actually live together so you may see a little partnering onstage, but those dancers are in close contact with each other at home already,” Puder said.

The program consists of three works, all performed to live music. The company will reprise Puder’s 19th Amendment. The work commemorating the 100th anniversary of the amendment giving women the right to vote debuted in February. Puder is eager to bring it back, revealing its fresh relevance. “The world has changed so much since February,” Puder said. “I think it’s a really timely ballet.”

Puder revisited one of the company’s early works for this program. Puder choreographed Ravel Violin Sonata in 2013 during the company’s second season. She originally intended the piece for five dancers, but circumstances at the time forced her to create the piece for three dancers.

“I always wanted to go back and restage it for five dancers. I think it’s the perfect piece for right now because of the spacing,” Puder said. “It’s been kind of amazing going back and looking at the ballets at the beginning. I think it’s a testament to how much we’ve grown as a company.”

Madison Hick’s Still Growing is a new piece based on Hick’s Women’s Choreography Project SOLOS creation that made its virtual premiere this summer on YouTube and ACB’s social media channels. Hicks lives in Austin and has been teaching virtual classes throughout the pandemic.

As the company began working on Still Growing, Hicks suggested trying Zoom rehearsals. “So, we set up a huge screen in the studio and actually, she created the whole piece via Zoom,” Puder said. “It’s worked so well. It’s kind of amazing.”

This performance will be the first time Avant Chamber Ballet performs at Strauss Square. With a dance floor installed and enough socially distanced seating for 300 people, the venue is a good fit for a company trying to dance through a pandemic. “I can see us revisiting the stage quite a few times. Outdoor concerts in Dallas just make sense,” Puder said. “Our audience really loves us because of the artists, so the great thing is I think what we do will translate really well into that space. I think some of the fourth wall will be a little bit broken and I’m excited about that, that maybe our audience will feel a little bit more intimate.”

Lawn seating at Strauss Square in the Dallas Arts District
Nate Rehlander
Guests are welcome to bring lawn chairs to Strauss Square for Avant Chamber Ballet's season premiere.

Avant Chamber Ballet is working on a virtual holiday program to be released in December. Puder is planning spring performances and outreach programs. The company plans to film performances, releasing them as a subscription series or purchased individual viewings.

Taking on the extra expense of videography and streaming is daunting during this period of financial uncertainty. “It’s a scary project to go into, but I think it’s important to keep dancers dancing and I think our audience is ready to see dance,” Puder said.

Dancing takes on a new significance during a pandemic. “Art is always the solace. When we’re alone or when you’re going through any hardship, you can always turn to art,” Puder said. “That really connects with the soul of everybody.”

Learn more about Avant Chamber Ballet: http://avantchamberballet.org/

For tickets and performance information at Strauss Square: https://www.attpac.org/on-sale/2020/under-the-stars/

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