Welcome to the Art&Seek Spotlight. Every Thursday, here and on KERA FM, we’ll be exploring the artistic endeavors of different North Texas creatives. As it grows, this site, artandseek.org/spotlight, will paint a collective portrait of our artistic community at work. Discover all the artists we have profiled.
The Soluna festival in the arts district has distinguished itself in recent years by unprecedented collaborations between music and other arts. This Saturday’s one-night event called Array has some daring mash-ups, featuring famous artists like hip-hop star Nas teaming up with members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Later in the bill, there is another collaboration with interesting potential.
“I Can’t Go On Without You” was one of the hit singles from Kaleo’s 2016 “A/B” album. When you first heard the band, you might have thought that It was Irish singer-songwriter Hozier or maybe even British band Mumford and Sons. All are European performers who have taken country, gospel and blues and reinterpreted them into lush, hilarious mini-symphonies.
Kaleo is actually an Icelandic band that moved to Austin the year before “A/B” was released. And now they come to Array, the Saturday night of quirky mash-ups for the Soluna Festival. They will collaborate on a live performance of “I Can’t Go On Without You” with the Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet.
The dance troupe specializes in such partnerships – it’s one of the ways a small ballet company has managed to survive in Dallas. But for founder-director Emilie Skinner, there was only a problem. Did she even know who Kaleo was?
“Honestly, no,” she said with a nervous laugh. “It’s very different from the music I grew up with and the music I usually choreograph with. But a lot of my dancers were really, really excited because they saw them in concert.
Skinner created the Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet seven years ago. The 35-year-old grew up in Houston and trained at UNT as a ballerina. “But there was a part of me,” she says, “that wanted to see ballet done in a more underground, punk-rock, alternative way. So we’re going to take horror movies and create mini-ballets out of those pieces.
It is true that DNCB danced at the Dallas Museum of Art, performing works inspired by the famous paintings of ballet dancers by the impressionist Edgar Degas. They also revived “Parade”, the historic and avant-garde 1917 ballet composed by Erik Satie with sets by Pablo Picasso and performed by the Ballets Russes.
But more generally, DNCB has developed a series of ballets at the Texas Theater, all derived from horror films like “Suspiria” and “Nightmare on Elm Street”. Two years ago at the Majestic Theater the company presented perhaps its most ambitious project to date, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” with a commissioned score, video and orchestra by 16 musicians.
So… is one of the that sound like country gospel blues?
“And that’s why I wanted to bring in a guest choreographer who would react to the music and create something really special,” Skinner explains.
So she turned to Giovanni Allen. Skinner met him at Dana’s Studio of Dance in Southlake, where they both teach. The 29-year-old New York native was educated at Alvin Ailey and the California Arts Institute. He came to North Texas in 2010 – expecting it to be just a break on his way to auditioning for ‘The Lion King’ in New York.
“Honestly, I was just a dancer when I got here,” he says. “There wasn’t really a passion for teaching. But then when I started to realize that I had something more to give than just interpreting someone’s movements, I started focusing on teaching and then choreography.
Even with neo-classical’s collaborative impulses and aims to energize ballet, “I Can’t Go On Without You” presents… a few challenges.
“It’s definitely a back and forth between a bit of classic and a bit of blues,” Allen says, shaking his head. “There is a lot of desperation in there. But in the end, the guy gets away with it.
Plus, it’s only the second dance Allen has commissioned – ever. At over six minutes, it is also Kaleo’s longest song. And although it expresses a man’s torment in the face of a toxic relationship, Allen must interpret it with six dancers.
“So what I expressed to the girls,” Allen says, “from the moment they start, imagine all these burdens and all these bad choices, they start to come unstuck.”
Kaleo’s song actually goes by bitterness to end on a nostalgic and melancholy note. And this is only the dancers’ second rehearsal, so Allen is still working out how everything will pan out.
But Skinner says one thing is for sure. Array, the Saturday night of collaborations, takes Soluna and classical music beyond the Arts District into Deep Ellum. It’s like a cross-fertilization laboratory for artists and the public. It’s just the game Skinner played
But it’s still the DSO. Skinner’s little cast spent seven years working on partnerships. And this time the Dallas Symphony came to her.