Nest of vipers: ‘Dividing the Estate,’ DTC’s foray in Foote, gets Gothic Southern comedy just righ

LITTLE FOXES | Mama (June Squibb, standing right) refuses to give sway to her money-hungry daughter Mary Jo (Nance Williamson, left) in ‘Dividing the Estate.’ (Photo courtesy Brandon Thibodeaux)

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

“They were lazy and no good but they came from lovely families,” declares Mama (June Squibb), matriarch of the Gordon family of tiny Harrison, Texas. It’s a line that really sets the bar for your appreciation of Horton Foote’s Dividing the Estate: You either get the joke (and the fact it’s not really a joke at all) or you don’t. This is a play that targets a Southern audience and assumes everyone else will just sleep in the weeds for two hours. And it’s OK with that.

I am, too. There’s a proud, fine tradition of Gothic Southern theater that runs a gamut from campy hoots (Del Shores, the Tuna guys) to strained melodrama (Tennessee Williams, especially his later stuff). There’s been a renaissance of it lately, with Broadway productions of Tracy Letts’ awesome epic August: Osage County and Dividing the Estate, both of which tweak and (dare I say) improve upon their source material: King Lear and The Little Foxes, classics about crotchety old folks who use money to control their families and expect the world to conform to their will. I’ve known women like Mama; I called one Grandma.

The Dallas Theater Center’s current production at the Wyly, directed with astonishing sure-footedness by Joel Ferrell, is a crackerjack comedy filled with death, lung-emptying sibling in-fighting and money-grubbing, and if that doesn’t sound like the stuff of comedy to you, you might be a Yankee.

Set in the mid 1980s, it captures the fashions and Reagan Era social climbing with uneasy accuracy. Mama’s three kids — Lucille (Gail Cronauer), Lewis (Kurt Rhoads) and Mary Jo (Nance Williamson) — are all in need of money, and debate whether they should divide the estate now or wait for Mama to die. None has ever worked a day in their lives, so they see the farmland, largely fallow, as some magical money machine. Mama will have none of it, but her resistance really just causes more problems.

John Arnone’s quasi-expressionistic set conjures the end of gracious living: A moldering plantation manor in need of a paint job, a faded memory of a once-glorious monument to glamour… much like the Gordon family itself. But the performances are what really sell the play. Williamson’s blowsy Houston wannabe socialite is a testament to superficiality. Rolling her eyes and hissing her lines, Williamson gives Mary Jo a swagger out of proportion to her own abilities. Her uncontrolled avarice is a study is slapstick. She contrasts beautifully to Lynn Blackburn’s Pollyanna centeredness as an outsider about to marry into the family. Akin Babatunde seems to have a rhythm all his own, a sing-songy cadence as the 92-year-old servant who engenders more respect than any of the children.

But at the heart is Squibb: Lips pursed, jaw set like a shovel in the ground, eyed focused so narrowly, Mama cannot see the big picture. You sympathize with her even as you know the mistakes she’s making — just like your family, probably — certainly mine. Dividing the Estate resolves nothing; it merely reminds us that that’s how it always is.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Sarah Jaffe and Bosque Brown tonight at the Wyly

Buzz surrounds local musician Sarah Jaffe, but she’s ready to move on

Going from playing smaller clubs like Dan’s Silverleaf and Club Dada, to selling out the Granada Theater last year, Sarah Jaffe’s star is on the rise. She gets a primo gig Saturday when she headlines at the Wyly Theatre in support of her 2010 full-length debut, Suburban Nature. After garnering attention for Nature locally and nationally (from the Dallas Observer to NPR), Jaffe wasn’t just a girl with a guitar — she unlocked yearning and pain with wisdom beyond her 25 years. Jaffe captures the poetry of life and love and sets it to music … even if she doesn’t mean to.

“I’ve never been a strategic writer and I’m thankful for that,” she says. “It comes out sporadically. There are those moment in life when I slow down and it’s just me being human and being alive and the writing is totally cathartic.”

Read the entire article here.

—  Rich Lopez

Sarah, upside down

Buzz surrounds local musician Sarah Jaffe, but she’s ready to move on

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Going from playing smaller clubs like Dan’s Silverleaf and Club Dada, to selling out the Granada Theater last year, Sarah Jaffe’s star is on the rise. She gets a primo gig Saturday when she headlines at the Wyly Theatre in support of her 2010 full-length debut, Suburban Nature. After garnering attention for Nature locally and nationally (from the Dallas Observer to NPR), Jaffe wasn’t just a girl with a guitar — she unlocked yearning and pain with wisdom beyond her 25 years. Jaffe captures the poetry of life and love and sets it to music … even if she doesn’t mean to.

“I’ve never been a strategic writer and I’m thankful for that,” she says. “It comes out sporadically. There are those moment in life when I slow down and it’s just me being human and being alive and the writing is totally cathartic.”

Despite her ardent folk music and Joni-Mitchell-and-the-like upbringing (thank her parents), her musical affinity lies elsewhere.

“I love electronic music and I love making it. I’m obsessed with Robyn. I have this secret dream to be a choreographer because I legitimately love dancing. It makes me happy,” she gushes.

With big-time hype and attention, Jaffe is a contradiction to the ramping buzz about her work. She sounds like she wants a sensible perspective despite her self-proclaimed pessimism.

“I feel so lucky at this point. When people talk about you, it’s strange with even a small amount of success,” she says. “But there’s always some negativity. It’s a huge honor for people to recognize my work but I question myself. I’ve always been a cynic, but I guess I have a shitload to learn.”

Jaffe’s “small amount of success” has already been on the receiving end of the “is she or isn’t she” curiosity. She received accidental lesbian attention when AfterEllen.com included her in a travel destination piece on Dallas and, she surmises, the writer mistook her for Erase Errata’s Sara Jaffe. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise — it expanded her audience base.

“I do have a large lesbian following and it’s great anywhere it comes from,” she says. “Any sort of relating that anybody can get out of music is a wonderful thing.”

She’s learned quickly it comes with the territory, but it’s awkward for her nonetheless.

“It’s weird there’s this curiosity. Sexuality is gray for me but people are gonna talk about those things,” she says. “I’ve loved men and I’ve loved women but it’s more like I relate to a human connection. None of that matters to me.”

Jaffe’s just glad to get any person to her show as well as clean her slate. Despite the success of Nature, she’s ready to move on.

“I plan on an EP release this spring. They are all demos but I think there’s a charm in it,” she says. “I’m so proud of Suburban Nature, but the songs are like six or seven years old. And I’m chomping at the bit.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Stage: Year In Review 2010

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

1-GE6_81212010 proved to be an oddly uninvolving season at the theater.

The tours, even the good ones, were often retreads of past shows (I love Avenue Q and Wicked, but have seen them already — a lot) or dreadfully overproduced, crap (the unwatchable Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the appalling Shrek).

Local companies tried to be creative, with mixed results. There were high points — and when they were high, they were spectacular — but mostly it was middle-of-the-road stuff and disappointing, unfulfilled promise. And when things were bad, as they were with the disastrously under-realized reinvention of It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Superman! at the Dallas Theater Center, they almost made me red-faced with rage. But there was still enough to warrant a “best of” list, and here they are.

10. August: Osage County and 9. Spring Awakening (Lexus Broadway Series). The two best tours of the year were both part of the new series at the Winspear. Neither was quite as good as the New York productions, but August, with its epic take on the family dynamic, and Awakening, with its frank, modern spin on sexual yearning, made the hassles of going to the Arts District worth the effort.

2-GE1_9612
WINNER’S CIRCLE | Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre managed two of the best shows of the year: ‘Opus,,’ left, and ‘Bach at Leipzig,’ both of which made classical music exciting.

8. The Beauty Plays (Dallas Theater Center). Give credit to the DTC for tackling three Neil LaBute plays often relegated to more “alternative” theater companies by putting them in rep in the 99-seat Wyly black box. These are uncomfortable plays to watch, with the versions of Fat Pig and Reasons to Be Pretty outlapping The Shape of Things, but the series itself was a welcome bit of daring programming.

7. SubUrbia (Upstart Productions). Taking on its second Eric Bogosian play in a year, and on the heels of This Is Our Youth, Upstart showed an admirable facility with modern plays about aimlessness.

6. Boom and 5. Charm (Kitchen Dog Theater). Two vastly different comedies — Boom, a futurist tale about a gay guy wanting to repopulate the world, and Charm, a period piece about a feminist icon — turned basically unfunny ideas into beautiful, almost surrealist bits of whimsy.

4. Our Town (WaterTower Theatre). After a few disappointing seasons, WaterTower got back on track with this American classic. Defying conventional wisdom that it’s an “easy” piece of sentimental tripe, director Terry Martin fathomed its iconic, homespun realism. It’s a more peculiar piece than it gets credit for, and the realization here was exquisite.

5-Charm-PR-George-&-Margaret-copy
FEMINISM GONE WILD! | Tina Parker, right, played an independent woman in 19th century America in Kitchen Dog’s aptly named ‘Charm.’

3. My Fair Lady (Lyric Stage). The best musical on the list was Lyric Stage’s gussied-up, NEA-granted, original orchestrated mounting of one of theaterdom’s crowning glories. (It’s probably the best book of a musical ever written … which you can attribute to Shaw.) Magnificently costumed and designed, and directed with panache by Cheryl Denson, it was like a time machine to 1954, and proved why Steven Jones is North Texas’ finest theater producer.

2. Bach at Leipzig and 1. Opus (Circle Theatre). Fort Worth had it all over Dallas (and Irving!) with the two best shows on the year. In Bach, playwright Itamar Moses conceived of his play — a comedy about Baroque composers — as a theatrical fugue, and director Robin Armstrong made it happen with gorgeous sets and a cast that understands that farce is more than pie-throwing, but the melding of wordplay and swordplay in equal doses. But Circle Theatre also claimed the best show of the year, also about music, with Opus, in which a gay couple’s breakup nearly ruins a famed string quartet. If all classical music were this enchanting, Mozart will still be on the pop charts.

…………………………………….

ACTOR OF THE YEAR

The stage — especially local theater — is a great medium for actors to stretch themselves. There were some strong ensembles this year, in both of the top plays, Bach at Leipzig (especially Steven Pounders and Andy Baldwin — and excluding the actor who played Bach himself, who missed his only cue) and Opus, as well as the three leads in the No. 3 show, J. Brent Alford, Kimberley Whalen and Sonny Franks in My Fair Lady. Terry Martin made a good Stage Manager in Our Town, but it was the performances he elicited as the director from Joey Folsom, Maxey Whitehead and Ted Wold that stood out most. Folsom was strong, too, in SubUrbia. Tina Parker led a great cast in Charm with her patented wide-eyed energy.

DTC_031010_FATPIG_dress_078Sometimes what most impresses you, though, is someone good in a show that doesn’t deserve it. Morgana Shaw made Closer to Heaven a hoot (despite a deeply problematic script), and Gregory Lush’s flamboyant turn in Sherlock Holmes in the Crucifer of Blood gave the show a jolt. Wendy Welch transformed the likeable revue Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits into the comic highlight of the fall. And the up-and-down revision of Henry IV was made hilarious with the return to the DTC of Randy Moore. R Bruce Elliot’s interpretation of Beethoven in 33 Variations almost saved that rambling show. Almost.

But the actor who I will judge 2010 by will always be Regan Adair. He took on two roles in DTC’s Beauty Plays  — Fat Pig, where he played a conflicted yuppie (pictured above with Christina Vela), and Reasons to Be Pretty, as a working class lech — so vastly different you could hardly recognize him from show to show. His way with Shakespearean dialogue in Henry IV and his harried but touching take on Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol showed how effortlessly he can assault a variety of genres.

Adair is moving away from Dallas in 2011 — a terrible loss to our artistic community; he’s been a frequent finalist on my year-end list. But even if he weren’t leaving, he deserves to be recognized as the actor of the year.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Holy ‘Trinity!’

DTC world premiere trilogy captures Oak Cliff experience

The Trinity River Plays
SET PIECES | The glorious set design of ‘The Trinity River Plays’ is just one of its artistic successes. (Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux)

THE TRINITY RIVER PLAYS
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Through Dec. 5. $15–$85.
DallasTheaterCenter.org.

………………………….

The Trinity River Plays take place in and around the kitchen of my first house in Oak Cliff. The yellow appliances and yellow vinyl chairs and table. The metal plant stand. The screen door that snaps closed with a long, thin spring. The tree too close to the house — every house I’ve had in Oak Cliff has had a tree too close to the house.

Longtime Dallas residents will probably pick up on different details —the Yahtzee game on a dresser in a back room in the first play changed out for a more modern one in the second. Designer Tony Rosenthal deserves kudos for that perfect set. It’s enough alone to recommend the play.

But it is not the only reason to recommend it. Just as good are the magnificent performances in this sweeping drama.

In “Part I: Jarfly,” Iris (Karen Aldridge) is a 17-year-old graduate of South Oak Cliff High School, Class of ’78, bound for an SMU education — and, she’s sure, greatness. By “Part III: Ghost(story),” she has evolved from aspiring writer and high school nerd to successful New York author and editor. But when she returns to Oak Cliff for a birthday visit with her mother Rose (24’s Penny Johnson Jerald), her success is not good enough. After all, no one liked her sixth book, Rose points out.

So complete is Aldridge’s transformation it takes a moment to recognize her from play to play. She’s never better than when she’s tossing lines with Jacqueline Williams as Aunt Daisy. Without understanding the irony, Daisy argues how important marriage is — which is why she’s been married three times. (Williams is also great with a garden hose. Don’t fear sitting in the first couple of rows — her aim is perfect.)

Playwright Regina Taylor, best known on Dallas stages for her play Crowns, staged by Dallas Theater Center in 2005, writes sharp and witty dialogue for this family of strong characters. When the play moves to the Goodman Theater in Chicago in January, some of the references will be lost: Born at Parkland, the Hampton Road Y, the long-gone Bishop College, going for lunch at H.L. Green’s add to that Dallas sense of place. But for locals, it simply adds to the richness. (A reference to the Trinity River Project “getting underway any day now” in a scene set in 1996 gets a big laugh from the audience.)

By opening the play in Dallas, the cast (none from here) absorbed their Oak Cliff surroundings, doing a wonderful job of conveying the place before traveling with the show. Even the thunderstorm felt like authentic North Texas weather — just more predictable.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Trinity River Plays’ tonight at the Wyly

Dallas is the backdrop for actress-playwright Regina Taylor’s new trilogy

For Dallas native Regina Taylor, it was important to set The Trinity River Plays in her hometown. It’s something she intimately knows, which allows her characters to be grounded in a reality that’s close to home physically and spiritually.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is set at home,” she says. “And that is as palpable as the womb in terms of identity.”

Dramatic storytelling is nothing new for Taylor, whose previous work as a playwright include Crowns and Drowning Crow. She’s also an accomplished actress with an amazing résumé spanning theater, television and feature films. She was the first black woman to play Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet, but is probably best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television series I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred in CBS’ The Unit alongside Dennis Haysbert.

Yet even with her acting success, writing has always been one of Taylor’s truest loves.

“I started as a writer from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was writing my own children’s stories when I was little and it was with the encouragement of my mother who wanted me to live a creative life and empower me with the possibilities in terms of creating my own worlds. That changes your perspective on how you face the world and move through the world. It’s something I truly cherish.”

DEETS: The Trinity River Plays, Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Nov. 5–Dec. 5 (in previews through Nov. 11). $15–$85. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

—  Rich Lopez

A ‘River’ runs through it

Dallas is the backdrop for actress-playwright Regina Taylor’s new trilogy

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Actress and Dallas native Regina Taylo
HOME AGAIN | Actress and Dallas native Regina Taylor comes home for inspiration for her new plays.

THE TRINITY RIVER PLAYS
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Nov. 5–Dec. 5 (in previews through Nov. 11). $15–$85.
DallasTheaterCenter.org.

……………………………………..

For Dallas native Regina Taylor, it was important to set The Trinity River Plays in her hometown. It’s something she intimately knows, which allows her characters to be grounded in a reality that’s close to home physically and spiritually.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is set at home,” she says. “And that is as palpable as the womb in terms of identity.”

Dramatic storytelling is nothing new for Taylor, whose previous work as a playwright include Crowns and Drowning Crow. She’s also an accomplished actress with an amazing résumé spanning theater, television and feature films. She was the first black woman to play Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet, but is probably best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television series I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred in CBS’ The Unit alongside Dennis Haysbert.

Yet even with her acting success, writing has always been one of Taylor’s truest loves.

“I started as a writer from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was writing my own children’s stories when I was little and it was with the encouragement of my mother who wanted me to live a creative life and empower me with the possibilities in terms of creating my own worlds. That changes your perspective on how you face the world and move through the world. It’s something I truly cherish.”

The trilogy consists of three plays, Jar Fly, Rain and Ghost(story), which unfold sequentially at each performance in the Dallas Theater Center production, co-produced with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

They follow the life of Iris Sparks, who is a writer, as she moves through these defining transforming moments in her life.

In Jar Fly, we see her when she turns 17 — the same age when jar flies (cicadas) go from little grubby worms living underground to insects climbing up a tree in the dark until the light of day hits it and it can shed its skin and spread its wings.

“It has this incredible voice that’s jarring,” Taylor says, “so you have this young woman trying to find her voice as a writer and a human being. It is the occurrences of this day that take her on this journey that will absolutely transform her life. And it’s what we do with these obstacles, this hard rain that inevitably comes in every life, many times and many seasons, and how we move through that.”

The second play, set 17 years later, focuses on that same hard rain.

“Iris is ready to face another storm as she’s 34 years old. It’s after the disintegration of her marriage and the diagnosis of her mother with cancer. You see this mother and daughter taking this journey together. And with that, there’s a transformation. Do we run away from the hard rain, try to outrun it, or do we stand our ground and take the nourishment from it to grow? We’re tested by life. How we meet those tests on a daily basis defines who we are. It’s an exploration of the human spirit and the tenacity of the human spirit.”

The trilogy closes with Ghost(story), which takes place the day before Iris’ mother’s funeral, then offers a glimpse at what her life is like — again, 17 years later.

“She’s trying to figure out where she’s going to go to move forward. And in that she wrestles with and embraces her ghosts. And that’s what we do. Our past is our shadows. Moving forward, we’re always circling back to deal with and wrestle with our ghosts,” explains Taylor.

Taylor wants audiences to embrace the humor and warmth of her Trinity River Plays, but most importantly, she wants to transport them to another place — even if the stories are set just a few miles from the Wyly.

“You have this arc, this journey, this development of the human spirit,” she says. “I think there’s poetry to the pieces.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

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

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

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