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Avant Chamber Ballet Introduces First Annual Women’s Choreography Project 20

Dancer Rachel Meador in Amy Morrow’s ballet “String Theory.” Photo: Martin Perez

Every few years, an article will come out questioning the appearance of the female voice in dance or theater. Where are all the female directors, playwrights or choreographers, these writers ask?

The answer is always the same: They’re around, but they aren’t getting as much attention as their male counterparts are (for a variety of reasons). An article originally posted on The Guardian‘s website in 2013 found new life in 2015’s social media pages, and the question about female choreographers (or the lack thereof) became a point of conversation again. While this article was focused mainly on the search for the British female voice in dance, I would say the same question could be asked here in America. And here in Texas.

So where are the female choreographers? They are here, they are working and Dallas-based Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) is doing their part to call attention to the inventive and intriguing work they are creating in our city with the first annual Women’s Choreography Project this weekend at the Eisemann Center. It will feature work from established and emerging choreographers: Elizabeth Gillaspy, associate professor of ballet at Texas Christian University, freelance choreographer Emily Hunter (who currently teaches at Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts and is one of the founders of FurtherDance Fort Worth), Amy Morrow, certified GAGA instructor (the movement language invented by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin) and Avant Chamber Ballet’s own artistic director and co-founder Katie Puder. The upcoming production creates a space for their voices and concepts to be heard.

As ACB is gearing up for this inaugural event, I spoke with Puder about the impetus for this project — which seems to be based on a very personal place for her — as well as the choreographers, and what we can expect from the production.

Danielle Georgiou: What inspired you to produce and create The Women’s Choreographic Project?

Katie Puder: I saw an obvious lack of female choreographers in the repertoire of ballet companies, and I wanted to do something that would bring the inequity to people’s attention. But I also wanted to create something concrete to fix it.

DG: How did you select the choreographers for this project?

KP: I wanted to introduce new ideas and bring in different styles to the company, and create a place in which they could be presented on a stage. I also just really admire these choreographers and I’m honored to be able to work with them. I think this is the most varied and interesting program that ACB has ever presented.

DG: How have your dancers been responding to each of these outside choreographers’ techniques and styles?

KP: I have been really pleasantly surprised to see different qualities and strengths come out of the dancers that I didn’t know was there. It’s an important part of the health of a company and the growth of the artists to work with new choreographers and to have works made on them.

But I think all of the ballets being created are in line with our goals and focus of the company: innovating, musical and engaging. Take Emily Hunter’s “Allegro Ma Non Troppo.” It’s humorous, quirky, fun and keeps you guessing as both a dancer and audience member. Amy Diane Morrow’s “String Theory” is relational, intriguing and emotional, and Elizabeth Gillaspy’s “Poema de Tres Versos” is stirring and magnetic.

DG: How have your seen your dancers grow from this process?

KP: I think all the pieces were a little out of the dancers’ comfort zones at first . . . but you won’t grow if you’re always doing what is easy for you. And these dancers are growing far more quickly than I could ever have imagined.

DG: You’ve also created a new work for this production. Does this piece follow the aesthetic you have been building, or will it be a departure?

KP: I’ve actually created two pieces: one full work, “Memories of Change,” and half of a new ballet, “Endless Arc” [which will premiere in full at the SOLUNA Festival this summer].

“Memories of Change” is for two female dancers to Bach’s “Cello Suites,” and this music is very important to me. Whenever I need comfort or to quiet my mind, this is my go-to. They are simply perfect. The ballet was commissioned in memory of Katy Anne Duff, who was a student at Booker T. Washington. It is about change, loss and comfort through connecting with another person. It is a little different from my normal choreography because it is less technical and classical and more about the connection of the two dancers.

DG: What has been your favorite part of this production and producing a new project of this kind?

KP: I love the challenge and reward of each production we do. So far each program that ACB has presented has been really different, but this show is the first where I wasn’t doing the majority of the choreography and I love seeing other people’s visions projected onto my dancers. I am already looking forward to next year’s Women’s Choreography Project.

Avant Chamber Ballet’s Women’s Choreography Project runs Saturday, March 7 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 8 at 3:00 p.m. at the Eisemann Center.