Hot Szot

Swoon-worthy gay baritone Paulo Szot injects tons of sex appeal in Dallas Opera’s pulpy ‘Don Giovanni’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

DON’T YOU WISH YOUR BOYFRIEND WAS HOT LIKE HIM  |  As Mozart’s antihero sex maniac, Paulo Szot gets to woo many women onstage. But the baritone mostly just misses his dogs and partner of 10 years, who are back in Brazil. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
DON’T YOU WISH YOUR BOYFRIEND WAS HOT LIKE HIM | As Mozart’s antihero sex maniac, Paulo Szot gets to woo many women onstage. But the baritone mostly just misses his dogs and partner of 10 years, who are back in Brazil. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

DON GIOVANNI
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Oct. 22–Nov. 7.
Tickets from $25.
DallasOpera.org

…………………………..

If you ever wanted to know how important casting is to the success of a play or an opera, consider this: If Don Giovanni, the most notorious lover in history, isn’t swoon-worthy onstage, there’s no chance an audience will lose itself in fantasy.

That is not a problem when you have Paulo Szot in the role. Szot effortlessly smolders with swagger and charm. In leather pants and pencil moustache, his chest heaving from under an iridescent cape, he looks like a superhero from the 1940s.

That’s fine with John Pascoe, the director and designer of this production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni — he wants you to think of a pulp romance novel cover when you see it.

“He’s like George Brent or Errol Flynn,” says Jonathan Pell, artistic director of the Dallas Opera, marveling at Szot’s graceful charisma. You totally understand how Don Giovanni was able to woo so many women.

In person, Szot himself is as compelling as his character, but disarmingly humble. And he’s not a womanizer at all — he and his partner have been together 10 years, sharing their home on the edge of the Brazilian rainforest with their four Weimaraners.

“I built that house three years ago — it is my dream home,” Szot says, eyes twinkling. “But I get to stay there, like 10 days. I miss my dogs, but I talk to them on Skype. They listen to me.”

It would be difficult not to listen when Szot talks — or sings. One of the most gifted baritones of his generation, Szot rocketed to international fame when he took on the role of Emile de Becque, the reclusive plantation owner who falls for an American farmgirl, in Lincoln Center’s 2008 revival of South Pacific. Szot won a Tony and the hearts of everyone who heard him sing “Some Enchanted Evening” and, even more thrillingly, “This Nearly Was Mine.”

“The main song [for Emile] is ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’ but somehow ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ became the 11 o’clock number,” Szot acknowledges. “It was magical for me; I’m very glad so many people liked it.”

Szot — already an in-demand opera star — was originally scheduled for only a six-month run in the role due to opera commitments, but extended it to more than two years (with brief departures for opera gigs), appearing only recently in a TV simulcast on PBS’ Live from

Lincoln Center. His appearance with the Dallas Opera represents his first full opera performance since leaving Broadway, although in between he pursued another dream: Singing at the Carlyle Hotel in New York.

“That was very new for me,” Szot says. “I’ve always wanted to sing songs I would sing to my friends in my house. It was so intimate, and in such a famous place. I’m coming back in February.”

From opera to musical theater to cabaret, Szot wants to do it all — and so far, he seems to be succeeding. Though the skill sets are different, he sees the line between these musical art forms blurring.

“The biggest difference [between opera and Broadway] is the number of performances. In opera, you rely on your throat and can’t sing eight shows a week. But microphones allow some control — that’s a wonderful thing. And Emile only has like 14 minutes of singing, though he’s constantly onstage, and there’s the dialogue.”

Szot agreed to do South Pacific not only for the Broadway experience, but also to tackle one of the few leading-man parts for a baritone; tenors usually get to be the hero. But ultimately, Szot’s fine with the more villainous parts. He concedes that Don Giovanni doesn’t get the best numbers in the show, but there are other benefits.

“I think those characters, not the good guys, are more interesting,” he says. “They are more colorful — particularly the Mozart ones.”

This production has captured even his attention. He’s enchanted by the costumes and the direction, and says he’s bringing many of the skills he learned in two years of South Pacific to the role.

“I’ve always wanted to do different kinds of music — I didn’t grow up choosing between one another. The techniques differ from singing before 200 in a cabaret and 4,000 in The Metropolitan. But it’s all a dream come true for me.”

Trust us, Paulo — we’re livin’ the dream with you.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Taste maker

Using his skills at detail and aesthetics as pastry chef, Rick Griggs moves his art from the plate to the canvas

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

PIECE OF CAKE | Former pastry chef Rick Griggs now produces work that won’t be gobbled up — he comes out as an artist with his first solo show Saturday. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
PIECE OF CAKE | Former pastry chef Rick Griggs now produces work that won’t be gobbled up — he comes out as an artist with his first solo show Saturday. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

OUT OF THE BLUE
Cameron Gallery,
1414 Dragon St. Oct. 16–Nov. 18. Opening night reception at
6 p.m. RickGriggs.com.

…………………………..

Call it an identity crisis or a leap of faith, but Rick Griggs has his mind made up. With more than two decades of experience as a pastry chef, Griggs is in the midst of a career change. Earlier this year, he switched away from regimented hours of working in a restaurant to the nebulous schedule of a full-time artist. And with that move came a bundle of nerves and uncertainty.

“I’m nervous in the monetary sense, not getting a regular paycheck,” Griggs says. “But it’s also exciting. It’s like an adventure —  you don’t know how it’s going to unfold. That’s part of the fun of it. Not knowing is a little bit nerve-wracking. But I tend to be a free spirit.”

This week Griggs will have his first solo show, Out of the Blue, at the Cameron Gallery in the Design District, marking a fairly significant moment for him. His artwork has been featured in local magazines and hangs in prominent public spaces and Dallas homes, but this is sort of his coming out moment as an artist. After years of building up a reputation as a quality pastry chef, he now has to reinvent and reintroduce himself to the local scene. But he’s got a head start.

“I show at Abacus and Jasper’s,” he says. “They have my work on rotation.”

“Rick has always been one of the greatest pastry chefs I’ve ever worked with and turns out, he’s an incredible artist as well,” says Kent Rathbun, the chef who was Griggs’ boss for eight years at Abacus. Rathbun himself is an art lover; his Plano restaurant, Jasper’s, was named after its inspiration, the gay artist Jasper Johns.

But it was not until Rathbun’s annual Dallas Art Party this year that Griggs seriously planned a change. Although he had been working on his art and selling it, pursuing his passion as a career was the next step for him to move forward. But really, he’d been living his dream for 20 years.

“This really was a natural progression,” he says. “My eye  became more refined in doing pastry work. Your vision changes as far as what you’re doing and I think if I’d started painting in 1984, I’d be doing different things now. With that time and learning technique, I think I’d be more layered, a better artist.”

There is a relation, though, between his pastry work and his painting — which means he could be a better artist than he gives himself credit for.

“I see a lot of similarities,” says Griggs. ”I use a palette knife because I realize there is a technique similar to  putting icing on a cake. A lot of my work also has that splattered paint like I’ve used with sauces. It’s a lot of the same fluidity and control.”

Griggs’ creative streak stretches back to his youth. His father worked in a very specific design world: archery. Being around that, Griggs got used to working with wood and paints. He says that was part of the foundation for his interest in art and also home restoration.

Griggs calls these subliminal influences which are coming out now in his work.

Griggs says it’s hard for him to explain his art. Visually, it’s abstract with geometric sensibilities. But interestingly, he says they are spontaneous and even reactionary. They are preconceived ideas or visuals but manifested into something altogether different when he begins each piece.

“I’d say it’s very intuitional and responsive. The paintings are a very subliminal rendering or an abstraction that could be relative to organic landscapes or architectural renderings,” he says.

Griggs’ culinary career began in 1984 and took him to Miami, New Orleans and Athens, then brought him back to Dallas and The Mansion on Turtle Creek before going to Abacus. Still, Griggs doesn’t think he’s leaving food behind.

“I still will dabble in food,” he says. “I have thought about opening my own business. Just as long as I can paint.”

“The intersection between art and food is basically the same — it’s a stimulus for people,” Rathbun says. “Rick has the ability to trigger two senses, which I think it truly unique and fascinating.”

Part of his personal plan is to begin his own coffee shop/gallery where his two passions can merge together. Which is an interesting notion considering what he says has pushed him to concentrating on the visual arts.

“I’ve always loved interiors and cool spaces and museums and I think the permanence of a painting versus the impermanence of food really drove me,” Griggs says. “I can spend hours and hours creating a food product that will disappear in moments, but a painting is everlasting. To me, there is a lot of reward in that.”

Griggs is working on getting the last pieces hung and then, once the show starts, he’s at the mercy of the art-loving universe.

“The exciting part is seeing how people react to it,” he says. “But I also wanna sell the art and that’s the most nerve-wracking. You have to sell to continue to produce.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Giving peace a chance

Turtle Creek Chorale opens season with an interfaith concert of peace and music

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

FAITH, PEACE AND HARMONY  |  Benny Ruiz, a 17-year veteran of the chorale, is also lay liturgist at Holy Trinity Catholic Chuch on Oak Lawn, where the chorale had its first rehearsal 20 years ago.  (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
FAITH, PEACE AND HARMONY | Benny Ruiz, a 17-year veteran of the chorale, is also lay liturgist at Holy Trinity Catholic Chuch on Oak Lawn, where the chorale had its first rehearsal more than 30 years ago. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

A NIGHT FOR PEACE
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Oct. 18. 8 p.m. $17–$20. TurtleCreek.org.

…………………………..

With the tragic gay teen suicides in recent weeks, the timing couldn’t be better for a message of hope presented through beautiful music.

On Monday, the 300-plus member Partners in Harmony chorus — including the Turtle Creek Chorale, the SMU Meadows School of the Arts Chorale and Concert Choir, the Dallas Wind Symphony and singers from more than 40 religious organizations — will perform three peace anthems for A Night of Peace.

“Seven years ago, the Turtle Creek Chorale began Partners in Harmony to solicit religious organizations in the area to sign a piece of paper affirming the belief that all people are created equal regardless of sexual orientation,” says Jonathan Palant, the chorale’s artistic director. “Fast forward six years, and nothing other than this piece of paper really had been done with our Partners in Harmony.”

Last year, the chorale invited singers from 45 religious institutions — synagogues, Baptist churches, Unitarian churches — to join it onstage for one performance. It ended up being a surprising show of unity between religious organizations and the gay community.

That did not surprise Benny Ruiz Jr., a 17-year member of the chorale and parish liturgist at Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

“Most people who know me at church also know that I sing with the Turtle Creek Chorale,” Ruiz says. “In fact, the Turtle Creek Chorale held its first rehearsals in the choir loft at Holy Trinity back in 1980.”

Ruiz says that due to it location on Oak Lawn Avenue, the parish has always had gay members. “We often use the message ‘all are welcome’ in our communications because that is the truth about Holy Trinity parish. We call ourselves ‘The Uptown Catholic

Community,’ which is almost as diverse as the city of Dallas,” he says. “Our parishioners and volunteers live all over the Metroplex. Some travel a long way every weekend because they have been touched by this open spirit of hospitality to all and they in turn want to spread that message.”

Holy Trinity was approached seven years ago to become a Partner in Harmony with the chorale.

“Our pastor was pleased to do so as an affirmation of the belief that all people are created equal,” he says. “This goes hand-in-hand with our message, just as Jesus was welcoming to all.”

For the second year in a row, the chorale is partnering with the Parkland Health & Hospital System Pastoral Care Department and its director, Linda Wilkerson, will be on hand to talk about the hospital program, which just last year celebrated 50 years of service. The concert is intended to raise money and awareness for the program. After her presentation, Wilkerson will light a candle that will burn throughout the concert.

“The purpose is to light the way toward peace in our community, and that candle will burn just as our desire for peace and goodwill continues to burn,” Palant says.

“Messages of peace and tolerance are great when written, better when spoken and acted upon, but best expressed through music and in our singing,” adds Ruiz. It’s an especially poignant message for gay teens.

“There is a great need for peace in the world and especially for tolerance in our nation,” Ruiz says. “The bullying in our schools and intolerance shown to immigrants and religions has been in the headlines way too much lately,” he says. “This night for peace provides the singers and audience a chance to silence all the intolerance and reflect on what the world can be if we all practice living as peacemakers.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Get your Pecha Kucha fix tonight at the Wyly

The networking event Pecha Kucha is about precision and presentation — but say it correctly, first

With an endless barrage of Twitter and Facebook updates, people are learning how to communicate quicker and with fewer words. Writing is one thing, but how are people at talking with that same succinctness? Is 20 seconds enough time to verbalize your point in a clear fashion?

If you ever plan to partake in some Pecha Kucha it will be — because you have no choice.

“The format took me forever to figure out, “ Rawlins Gilliland, pictured, says. “But it really is a wonderful one and you can pretty much conceptualize anyway you see fit.”

The KERA commentator known for his Southern drawl during pledge time, is one of 12 presenters for Wednesday’s fourth Pecha Kucha event. But first, he had to learn how to say it.

“I didn’t know anything about it and I still can’t pronounce it,” he says.

Originally designed as a networking event for designers in Tokyo, Pecha Kucha (pronounced puh-che ku-cha) has gone viral in bringing creative types together for a chit-chat (pecha kucha in Japanese). Only it’s not about cocktails and mixing: Participants present topics in some pretty precise parameters —all thanks to Sarah Jane Semrad and Brian Murphy, who licensed PK here in town.

DEETS: Wyly Theatre, 2403 Flora St. Oct. 13. 6 p.m. $10. PKNDallas.org

—  Rich Lopez

500 days of Samir

Male dancer Samir breaks the chains of Cirque du Soleil to blossom as ‘the guy’ with Bellydance Superstars

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Samir
GRACE LAND | Samir adds a different flair to bellydancing as Bellydance Superstars’ first and only male dancer.

BELLYDANCE SUPERSTARS
Palladium Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar St. Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. $20–$39.
BellydanceSuperstars.com

…………………………..

Going by a single name is a ballsy move that usually works more in favor of women: Madonna and Cher. Pink. Charo.

Then throw in Bono. There’s always one guy willing to go against the grain.

Samir is no singer; he’s a dancer. But the solo moniker isn’t the only thing about him that defies convention. He also seeks to prove that a dance traditionally performed by women has room for at least one guy. Samir is part of the harem of Bellydance Superstars, which is in Dallas this week. Just don’t box him into the male label — or even gay. He sees himself in a more primal fashion.

“I don’t identify as a male dancer or female dancer,” he says. “I’m more like a creature and I never had people criticize that. That’s what’s unique about it because audiences are confused and I think they like that.”

Samir is the first male dancer onstage for the Bellydance Superstars show, but it’s also one of the first times in his professional life that he’s felt like his art is blossoming. He first burst onto the public scene as part of Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. That experience looked great on his resume, but Samir wasn’t thrilled come curtain time each night.

“To get to Cirque, I felt something was different,” he says. “It was totally new for me but I was also never a backup dancer. For three years, I basically went out every night to just do these beautiful poses.”

For Samir, Cirque was a grueling process that left little for the Tajikistan-born dancer to be inspired by. He could recognize the art and technique that went with the show, but he says it was not a place for people who create.

“I found myself killing my talent and my time,” he says. “It was just a regular job doing the same thing every night. It was good exposure, being in Vegas at the Bellagio, but Cirque is only for dancers who are retired. They can enjoy their life there until they go to heaven.”

Samir discovered early that this wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Regardless of his excitement, the marriage was doomed from the moment he signed the contract.

“They told me all the good things, but changed it once I started,” he says. “The rehearsal part was all love and sex but the honeymoon ended right after I signed with them.

He applauds Bellydance Superstars producer and creative director Miles Copeland for stepping away from the norm to see the dance as an art. The show gives him the creative outlet he has been searching for.

“[Copeland] doesn’t want to keep you locked away,” he says. “Here you can show your stuff and if he likes it enough, it will be in the show. He respects your talent and that make me want to give more. I feel great here.”

Unlike Cirque, this show offers Samir a family of like-minded individuals — not a mishmash of athletes and artists. For him, everybody here talks the same language and has become one family. Plus, the touring has allowed him to see more of the world. The different places, people and even different dressing rooms each night are a longshot from his former routine.

Samir’s desire for creation is in his blood. Both his parents were involved in the arts: his mother a famous folk dancer, his father a musician. Samir has been dancing since he was 2 and had already tasted fame when he traveled the country with his parents. He fits in naturally to the whirlwind of touring and bringing bellydancing to the masses — even if his audiences are aficionados more than curious onlookers.

“The show is all about bellydancing and Indian and Oriental tradition dance. Only people who are into it and understand it usually come to see the show. But I hope some new people will see how beautiful it is,” he says.

Samir is coy about a few things. He won’t reveal his age but says he’s young enough to finish the tour. However, once the tour wraps up (for now) in February 2011, he teases about his next career move.

“It’s going to be a big surprise,” he says with a likely smile. “Contact me in a year.”

Just like a bellydancer to coyly leave one veil hanging.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Collective soul

The networking event Pecha Kucha is about precision and presentation — but say it correctly, first

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

THE MANY FACES OF MILLER  | Artist Cathey Miller hopes her paintings will speak for themselves. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
THE MANY FACES OF MILLER | Artist Cathey Miller hopes her paintings will speak for themselves. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

PECHA KUCHA
Wyly Theatre, 2403 Flora St. Oct. 13. 6 p.m. $10.
PKNDallas.org

………………………………..

With an endless barrage of Twitter and  Facebook updates, people are learning how to communicate quicker and with fewer words. Writing is one thing, but how are people at talking with that same succinctness? Is 20 seconds enough time to verbalize your point in a clear fashion?

If you ever plan to partake in some Pecha Kucha it will be — because you have no choice.

“The format took me forever to figure out, “ Rawlins Gilliland says. “But it really is a wonderful one and you can pretty much conceptualize anyway you see fit.”

The KERA commentator known for his Southern drawl during pledge time, is one of 12 presenters for Wednesday’s fourth Pecha Kucha event. But first, he had to learn how to say it.

“I didn’t know anything about it and I still can’t pronounce it,” he says.

Originally designed as a networking event for designers in Tokyo, Pecha Kucha (pronounced puh-che ku-cha) has gone viral in bringing creative types together for a chit-chat (pecha kucha in Japanese). Only it’s not about cocktails and mixing: Participants present topics in some pretty precise parameters —all thanks to Sarah Jane Semrad and Brian Murphy, who licensed PK here in town.

“I had to ask Sarah Jane a lot of questions, “ Gilliland says. “She asked me to be a presenter in which I come up with 20 photos, put them into a PowerPoint where each appears for 20 seconds. That translates to six minutes, 40 seconds. That’s the format.”

Gilliland is a storyteller, so he plans to weave a story about his childhood experiences in the time frame. He knew once he heard exactly what Pecha Kucha entailed that he wanted to tell the story of “my mother’s vain attempt to cook something for me and my sister.” He calls the six minute parameter a luxury compared to the usual three minutes he gets for a radio bit.

He is among a diverse group of  presenters that includes a human rights lawyer, tattoo artist, architect and visual artist Cathey Miller. Unlike Gilliland, Miller plans to let her art do most of the talking. Getting in front of a crowd to speak isn’t her norm. She admits she’s nervous.

“I’ve checked it out before to see what it was about, “ she says. “It was interesting for me as I was watching. I’m nervous but the good thing is it’s only 20 seconds with a gigantic slide behind me. And whenever Sarah Jane asks me to do anything, I say yes.”

Where Gilliland will use his images like a visual soundtrack to his story, Miller has created a slideshow of her art through the years with a brand new piece debuting as the final slide. She creates vibrant, colorful works that are part pop art and sci-fi with a humorous touch. Most depict women in strong situations, but still with some tongue in cheekiness aspect.

“My first couple of slides show what it’s like to be a working artist, “ she says. “That’s been my job for 25 years. And then I’ll be fleshing out the story of Cathedonia, this planet I invented in my art. Some of it’s kooky and crazy. “

By that she means femaliens with Big Gulps and tridents with heads as spears. She’ll also display some of her past work for DIFFA, and her newest pieces where she plays with wigs and mustaches in her many self-portraits.

For Semrad, Pecha Kucha reflects the genuine fabric of what Dallas personifies and maybe even reminds there is greatness behind this city. Plus, she and Murphy thought it was cool.

“I was captivated by this idea that it is in so many cities pulling diverse groups of people together, sharing ideas succinctly. And it’s fun — for the presenters and the audience, “ she says.

With three smaller PK nights under their belt, this particular one will be the biggest of the year. They chose to move away from a theme and instead go for absolute variety where they could find it. Murphy and Semrad seem to have it covered.

“We have one of everything, “ she laughs. “We wanted it to be purposefully diverse and not just gay or straight, but a good mix of men and women, professional backgrounds — an eclectic mix that represents Dallas in a profound way. Dallas is a cultural wasteland and full of endless opportunity. This is a celebration of ideas and contrasts.”

The former gallery owner is fine with the Twitter analogy that people can push boundaries within constraints and lends it to saying just what is important.

“And if the presentation sucks, well, it’s only six minutes. “ she says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Vampire Weekend plays the Palladium Ballroom tonight

Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij brings your Afro-pop listening pleasure

Hipsters unite! The buzz keeps going for indie popsters Vampire Weekend and they bring their consistently well-reviewed live show back to Dallas today. We spoke with gay memeber Rostam Batmanglij about his place in the band and in the community last week. Thankfully, he gave us quality tidbits of insight before the phone disconnected us twice. Ouch.

DEETS: With Beach House. Palladium Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar St. Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. $42. Ticketmaster.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Bumpin’ uglies

TBT’s Texas two step produces a gender-bending twist on ‘Cinderella’

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

TEXAS TWO STEP  |  Peter Zweifel and Mark Troxler bring dancing skill and comic panache — as well as a bit of masculinity — to Ben Stevenson’s campy production of ‘Cinderella.’ (Photo courtesy Ellen Appel)
TEXAS TWO STEP | Peter Zweifel and Mark Troxler bring dancing skill and comic panache — as well as a bit of masculinity — to Ben Stevenson’s campy production of ‘Cinderella.’ (Photo courtesy Ellen Appel)

CINDERELLA
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Oct. 1–3. Bass Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth, Oct. 22–24. $19–$99.
TexasBalletTheater.org

…………………………………..

Once upon a time, Texas Ballet Theater decided to have a little fun with a fairy tale classic. Artistic director Ben Stevenson has a wicked sense of humor when it comes to the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella, so for the upcoming productions of the timeless love story, Peter Zweifel and Mark Troxler are bringing a little extra something to these female roles: A bulge in their tights.

Gender-bending is common in opera, where female sopranos sometimes take on “trouser roles,” portraying men. According to Troxler, though, the stepsister roles are often portrayed by men in productions of Cinderella — after all, Rose Room divas notwithstanding, men make the ugliest women. But that won’t distract from the fact that these are two highly skilled, accomplished dancers.

Troxler trained with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and spent summers with San Francisco Ballet School and Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy before joining TBT, which he’s been with for nine years. Zweifel, who found his love for ballet after his mother put him into dance classes when he was a sprig, is in his sixth season with TBT. He got his start at the Virginia School of the Arts and the Stevenson Academy.

For the two seasoned dancers, the ugly stepsister roles present the opportunity to do something outside their comfort zones.

“This is more of a character acting role, as opposed to a dancing role. I am also playing a girl, so pretty much everything about it is different,” says Zweifel. “I like that I get to be funny and silly. These are sides of myself that I don’t usually get to explore onstage.”

Troxler agrees that this is a hilarious production.

“My favorite part of this ballet is the humor. From start to finish it’s a roller coaster of laughs,” he says. “With a love story thrown in.”

Troxler, who will also be playing other parts in Cinderella, isn’t phased by the need to quickly transform from one character to another. “It’s not too big of a deal switching roles,” he says.

“You just change your mental preparation and your costume.”

But really, he just wants to dance as much as he can.

“What made me decide to dance is the same thing that keeps me going every day my knees are aching and my back is sore. The love of the art form,” Troxler says. “It’s a very rare career and you can only dance for so long.”

Ballet, like opera, can be intimidating to a lot of people, often because the perception is that the performances will be boring or too complex. So Cinderella presents a great opportunity for ballet novices and enthusiasts alike to enjoy something lighthearted and fun.

“Just drop whatever horrible stereotype you have created in your mind and be open to experiencing something different. Come and enjoy the music and the dancing,” Zweifel says. ”Ballet is very athletic, which I think is something most people don’t realize. So even if you are a complete jock, you will be able to enjoy it. Don’t be afraid.”

Enjoying it won’t be the problem —  it’ll be stifling the desire to cheer for the stepsisters to put that prima ballerina, Cinderella, in her place. But even if they don’t come out on top, they’ll most certainly come out with a five-o’clock shadow.

For readers of Dallas Voice who make a reservation by calling 877-828-9200 and use the promo code “stepsister,” tickets for many seats are 50 percent off.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 1, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Vampire strikes back

Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij could be the new face of gay — if it matters

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

FORGET TEAM EDWARD OR TEAM JACOB  |  Batmanglij, left, and the rest of Vampire Weekend bring their live show back to Dallas Wednesday to win over the city again after their spring show back in April.
FORGET TEAM EDWARD OR TEAM JACOB | Batmanglij, left, and the rest of Vampire Weekend bring their live show back to Dallas Wednesday to win over the city again after their spring show back in April.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND
With Beach House.
Palladium Ballroom,
1135 S. Lamar St. Oct. 6 at 8 p.m.
Ticketmaster.com.

……………………………………………….

Face it: Society is getting kind of used to the celebrity come-out story. Ricky Martin comes out and we applaud; Chely Wright becomes the first out country singer and now we know her name — ho-hum.

But when Rostam Batmanglij talks about being out as part of the big-buzzed indie group Vampire Weekend, nobody seems to notice.

Maybe it’s Batmanglij’s everyman look — he’s handsome but doesn’t smolder like Martin. He’s the understated hipster dude in the funky clothes. He just … is, minus the whole producer/multi-instrumentalist bit he performs for the band.

“I think sometimes there is so much pressure to conform to a straight identity,” he says. “But also, there’s pressure to conform to stereotypes of gay identity. I hope that’s less and less a pressure nowadays.”

Nothing about Vampire Weekend’s vibe is particularly threatening, but their music is innovative enough to stand out. The sound is happy with reggae-ish beats and endearing lyrics. Their scruffy image proffers likeable appeal for college- and high school-aged kids that includes a new generation of LGBT youth unrestricted by labels. Like Batmanglij, they are living a life that doesn’t find the need to thrive on completely gay environments as may have been the case 20 years ago.
“Just like there are different kinds of straight people, it’s the same for gays,” he says. “But now there are various gay role models.”

Batmanglij came out to the media last year, saying it was something he felt he should do. It didn’t have the shockwave impact of other musical coming outs, but it didn’t have to for Batmanglij. Really, he just finds it tough to figure if his coming out had any kind of impact on either the band or himself.

“It’s hard to perceive,” he says. “I certainly believe we had gay fans before I talked about it. I just don’t know if gay people would approach our band based on that fact.”

What does weigh heavy on Batmanglij is not his gay identity, but his Middle Eastern heritage. When asked about the Washington Post’s article where he discussed having issues with “whiteness,” Batmanglij dismisses the condensed version of his life in that article, but also shifts to a troubled tone when talking about his heritage.

“I have a complex relationship with being of Iranian descent and now more than ever,” he says. “There are a lot of things not talked about in America and so much is repressed and kept in the dark. Middle Easterners aren’t represented well. I think that I’ll continue to have an issue with it. There are ways to look at things without the cynicism.”

Thus it’s actually harder to be Middle Eastern than gay, right now?

“Certainly in America,” he laughs.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 1, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Applause • Black. Power. Movement.

Dallas Black Dance Theatre ramps its 2010-11 season way up before celebrating 35 years

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Dancers Chris and Bravita
Dancers Chris and Bravita bring a fine line to the new season of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photography by Richard W. Rodriguez

As far as birthdays or anniversaries go, 34 isn’t usually considered a standout milestone. But for Ann Williams, it means a lot.

As the founding artistic director of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Williams sees the company’s upcoming 34th season as one of renewal and renovation — and one about preparing Dallas for its inevitable 35th year in the city.

“I did not think 35 years ago that it would ever be like this,” says Williams. “Back then, I just wanted a place to educate little girls; I just had my academy. Now, we get to service the city with professional dance theater.”

The DBDT calls its 2010–11 lineup A Season of Strength, Intensity and Seduction — virtues that have kept the theater going seemingly nonstop. Without missing a season since its beginning, DBDT renews itself by bringing in four new dancers to the troupe — not to mention last year’s move from the Majestic Theater into the Wyly Theatre, and its new home at the old Moreland YMCA in the Arts District.

Williams, with executive director Zenetta S. Drew, has steered the organization into its rightful place among Dallas arts.

“There’s been such a boon of the arts in Dallas,” Williams says. “I hope it continues with the economic times, but we’ve also been privileged to have these arts in this town. Plus, it’s exciting that we have the theater. We can actually plan a series.”

On both sides of the stage, the theater has had its own connection with the LGBT community. In past seasons, and even in the upcoming one, the theater has performed works by noted gay choreographers.  In February, the theater performs its Cultural Awareness Series including Smoke by Fort Worth’s Bruce Wood.

“For our dancers, the stigma of being gay has not hindered them or anyone not one bit,” Williams says of the welcoming approach the DBDT has taken toward the gay community— whether in the seats or onstage. “When I audition a dancer or talk to a potential employee, dance must be their passion. But I want everyone to remain individuals. I don’t want to see anyone hold something in. The only time I want to see people fitting in is during rehearsals. That’s the only time I have for cohesiveness.”

This season starts with the fifth annual DanceAfrica Festival at the Majestic. Despite its new home, DBDT keeps some ties to its former stage. The October event features dance, music art and cuisine of Africa.

This also marks a season of collaborations. DBDT teams up with the Dallas Museum of Art for African Masks: The Art of Disguise in October, the Irving Symphony for Hope Boykin’s in-ter-pret and perhaps the most anticipated, the Dallas Theater Center’s July production of The Wiz. All of this has Williams pretty excited.

“This is going to be so cool! There will be over 55 performers in this show,” she says.

The collaboration combines the Wyly’s two resident companies, and should also introduce Dallas Black Dance Theatre to new audiences it might not have gotten on its own. Williams finds that even today, the theater can break barriers.

“We have had very supportive audiences,” she says, “but we always want to reach out to others and embrace new fans.”

Growing from a basement space academy over three decades ago, Williams is aware that she has created an arts legacy for this city — even if she can’t believe it.

“I’m very humbled by who we are. It is still surprising,” she says. “When I see those beautiful dancers onstage working together, it brings tears of joy.  It really does.

And she wants to remind the audiences that they can expect a great season, but be prepared for the next.
“Thirty-five is right around the corner,” she says with a smirk. “That is the year we will really show out.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre
2700 Flora St. The 2010-11 season begins with the
5th Annual DanceAfrica Festival
The Majestic Theater, 1925 Elm St.
Oct. 8–9. $10. Season tickets $96–$208. 214-871-2376.
DBDT.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas