Ballet, Dance

dawson | wallace’s Dissonance Theory opens March 22

A preview by Marc Shugold

Long ago, young Juliet struggled with her dangerous affections for the love-struck Romeo. “What’s in a name?” she pondered. James Wallace and Gregory Dawson can relate. Wallace, as is well-known to attentive dance fans in these parts, had become a star with the David Taylor Dance Theatre since joining in 1999. When Taylor decided to step aside, he approached his talented dancer/choreographer with an offer to take the reins. An appealing suggestion. But then, what about the company name? “David asked if I wanted to change it,” Wallace recalled. Wisely, he decided to retain the familiar DTDT moniker, so as not to confuse audiences. Besides, Taylor would remain in an emeritus position — so that made sense.

Scene3-pic DawsonWallace

But, Taylor left to form his own company, Zikr. During a stint in San Francisco, Wallace discovered another talented dancer/choreographer, Gregory Dawson. “I brought Greg to Denver for three seasons,” Wallace said. And pretty soon, things began to change for the better with the company. “Our works complemented each other, and I saw how Greg was stretching the dancers in new directions.” The two decided to co-direct the company.

Once again, the name thing came up. What to call the Taylor-less troupe? Wallace/Dawson? Dawson/Wallace? Wall-son? Daw-ace”? In October, 2011, they decided that DTDT would be renamed the Dawson/Wallace Dance Project — although, “originally, we had it the other way around,” Wallace said. Which would’ve made sense, seniority-wise. “Somehow, Dawson/Wallace just rolls off the tongue easier,” he noted.

Which brings us to the D/W Company‚Äôs upcoming performances, set for March 22-23 at the Lakewood Cultural Center, and the afternoon of March 24 in Boulder’s Dairy Center. With an obvious stroke of artistic ambition, the troupe will dance two major new works by the co-directors, utilizing the full company for each one.

“It’s actually the fourth time we’ve each contributed new works,” Wallace pointed out. His piece titled Dissonance Theory calls for 15 dancers in its 26 minutes. As the title suggests, the focus is on our thoughts on, and reaction to, dissonance. But not the crashing discomforts of contemporary music (the accompaniment is by English composer Max Richter, known for creating ethereal, unblushingly tonal sounds). Wallace said he’s more interested in exploring the conflicting feelings generated by cognitive dissonance. That phrase was coined by Leon Festinger in the 1950s, who theorized that we tend to adjust, or rationalize away, one of those conflicting notions to attain a semblance of order in our minds. Heady stuff for dancing. There’s no storyline in Theory, the dance-maker noted, relying instead on “the feelings that arise in my choreography.” A big piece like this must require plenty of preparation and rehearsal — but wait. There’s more.

Gregory Dawson’s contribution, Au Printemps romantique, is a full-length, five-section work, lasting 40 minutes, and employing around 14-18 dancers. Using music by Brahms, Dawson’s choreography offers precious little opportunity for the performers to relax. There are few moments of repetitive movement. “There are more than 100 phrases that the dancers must learn,” Dawson said. “My dancers are being fed a lot of information in rehearsal.” The piece was begun in San Francisco, where Dawson had been a member of Alonzo King LINES Ballet since 1987. Though born out of his long-held fascination with Brahms’ passionate music, “It’s not about romance,” he said. Sure, the dreamy title suggests a romantic spring. “But it’s more about the Romantic era.”

Any way you look at it, this month’s D/W program must put huge challenges on company members.

“They love it,” Wallace countered. “Dancers these days have to be versatile. I think it’s great having these two (choreographic) voices.”

His optimism extends beyond the artistic side of co-directing a dance company. In these days of financial crises in the arts, Dawson/Wallace is on a pretty solid footing. “There was a $300,000 debt when I took over,” Wallace said. “But we paid it off in five years.” He gives the lion’s share of credit to his first executive director, Kristin Bennett. “When David and I discussed the leadership change, I said I’d only take over with a strong executive director. I couldn’t have done it without (Kristin).” Bennett stayed on for Wallace’s first five years, and has been succeeded by Lena Cazeaux.

Though he modestly passes credit for the company’s financial success to his administrators and board members, Wallace does take pride in his contributions. “I’m somewhat business-minded,” he said. Referring to the company’s third visit to the Dairy Center up in Boulder, he spoke of plans to do more outreach. “We’re trying to do some touring again. The places we used to visit have had their budgets slashed in recent years. But we’re hoping to get back to that.”

The Dawson/Wallace Dance Project performs at 7:30 p.m. on March 22 and 23 in the Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkway (Information: 303-987-7845) and at 3 p.m. on March 24 in the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder (Information: 303-444-7328). In addition, the company will be hosting a Gala/Silent Auction with hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar at 6 p.m., prior to the March 23 performance (Information: 303-987-7845).

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