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Stepping Into Solo Premieres

TBT Solo Premieres logo

By Dallas Guill

During October, Texas Ballet Theater Company dancers have been flexing their creative muscles and creating masterful, inventive works as part of the Solo Premieres series, which runs through the end of the month. The project not only features choreography and performances by Company dancers, but extensive work behind the scenes as well. We spoke with some of the participating dancers, giving them an opportunity to reflect on their experience with the project.

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What were the challenges in creating these solo performances for the series?

I think a big challenge was music limitations. I had to get creative with where I found my music. Also dancing on concrete is not easy, so adapting to that was another choreographic challenge, as well as a test of execution for us dancers. – Nicole Von Enck

The biggest challenge of creating solos for the series was capturing the audience’s attention in five seconds before they started scrolling on their phone again. My wife, Amanda, and I tried to quickly set the stage for the solo while fitting the theme. – Riley Moyano

Since the company has been working in smaller groups, or “pods”, we have had to maintain our distance when choreographing with someone not in our specific pod. Both Andre and Brett were in pods separate from mine, which naturally provided the challenge of learning how to choreograph with someone over a Zoom meeting. There is often so much nuanced movement and detail in choreography that cannot be conveyed over a video, so not having another person in the room with me to demonstrate those things required even more focus in rehearsal. – Katelyn Rhodes

The unexpected challenge with my new work Reflections on the Water was that I had to prepare for filming super early in the morning for two weeks! I wanted to get the best natural lighting of the day for this video, plus there are not many people around the Water Gardens in the morning. I have to do make-up and warm up class in the morning before sunrise, then go to the location. The sun rises quickly, so if you miss the window you have to wait till the next day. – Jiyan Dai

Because of filming outside, the weather was a challenge in all three solos. I had to find the perfect day and time, but also make sure I had captured all the footage that I needed, since lighting can be different from day to day. Another challenge was trying to explain and work on a certain feeling and emotion for each piece, while wearing masks in the studio. – Carl Coomer

Female dancer underwater in a swimming pool
Samantha Pille in Carl Coomer's "Can You Let Me In"

How did you select who you would be working with?

The dancers I picked had unique and different talents from one another, which helped me create four totally different solos. They all have super great work ethics and are fun to work with. – Riley

I have previously choreographed on the three dancers I picked, so I knew they understood my movement. They were also an important part of my choice of songs. I wanted to be able to reflect their personality in some way in each of the pieces. – Carl

I know it sounds overly diplomatic, but honestly I think I could’ve worked with any dancer at TBT because all of my fellow company members are so talented and dedicated to their art form. I chose Paige Nyman and Laura Gruener specifically because I could see them dancing when I heard my music choices. When coming up with choreography, I really tried to focus on movement I could see them doing. – Nicole                               

How did you select the settings, music, and costumes used in your piece(s)?

Whenever I choreograph anything, the music always comes first. Personally, it is the driving force behind any project. All three solos feature music by Alex Highton. Alex is a Liverpool based musician that I was introduced to about six years ago. I have been looking forward to collaborating with him and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. When I presented this project to him, he was equally excited about the partnership. Costumes were inspired by the movement and the feeling of each piece. In You’ve Got the Trees, it was fun to collaborate with Katelyn Clenaghan and have her design and make her own costume. – Carl

I picked my music based on my dancers and their personalities. I then picked a theme that matched the music, which made it easy to imagine a backdrop. After that the costumes really just came into place to round out the vibe of each solo. – Riley

I found the music through Epidemic Sound just by searching through their library and then seeing what caught my ear. It definitely took some time to sift through all the options and find what inspired me. For the costumes, I really wanted something that would highlight the paint on our bodies and not distract from the mural. Simple black leotards and skirts seemed a fitting choice. – Nicole

Female dancer with right leg lifted in a battement, dancing in an empty parking garage.
Amanda Fairweather in Riley Moyano's "32 Degrees"

Nicole, speaking of the mural, who created that background piece for your Bright Series? Did you work with a local artist?

I did collaborate with an artist! Although she is not local, my friend Grace C. Schlea is an incredibly talented artist and illustrator. Constantly seeing the cool pieces she posts on her Instagram @schlea_studios and on her website was what inspired me to incorporate painting into my solos. She actually came up with a design to give me a direction for the mural. I did the actual painting myself, which is why she didn’t want recognition because of course I don’t have the abilities to replicate her style or quality. – Nicole


Some of you have participated in Solo Premieres using self-taught technical skills. How long have you been doing editing/videography?

I actually haven’t been doing editing/videography for very long. I guess I really just started this month. Originally, I was only editing but soon after watching YouTube videos I learned that with editing I in turn needed to do video work. Being behind the camera would help me to have an easier setup for editing, so after the first solo I proceeded to do the second and third.

When this idea of doing solo projects was pursued, I wanted to bring something to the table. My husband, Riley Moyano, has been choreographing for a few years and I wanted to help his process. I watched a large amount of videos to help me edit the pieces that he would be creating in a fashion we wanted. Together we created images that we hoped would capture the audience in different ways. – Amanda Fairweather


And Dai, you’ve been involved in several TBT video and photo projects.

I started doing video work when I joined Texas Ballet Theater in 2014. We were performing Artistic Director Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. I created two short promotional videos for the Company and I loved it. My camera has video features and it can give videos a cinematic look.

I fell in love with dance photography in 2008 when I was traveling with my teacher in Europe participating in the Hungarian International Ballet Academy Art Festival on behalf of Beijing Dance Academy. During that time, my teacher had a DSLR camera Canon 5D Mark II, which was the best camera at the time, and he took a lot amazing photos. When I got back to China, I saved up for a long time to get my first entry-level camera. – Dai

Opening slide of Jiyan Dai's Reflections on the Water, featuring Dai superimposed in front of the Fort Worth Water Gardens.
Jiyan Dai's "Reflections on the Water"

For those of you that have created multiple works for Solo Premieres, do you have a favorite?

Each solo is so different in its character/artistic atmosphere. However, if I had to choose a favorite it might be Belvedere because the musicality is so fun! Also, it is so joyful and light, which is a nice escape from all the stress and unknowns of living through a pandemic. – Nicole

I don’t really have a favorite solo. Each solo progressed from my original idea into a fully immersive video that I couldn’t have imagined from the beginning. They all are so different from one another, making them impossible to compare in my eyes. Every dancer took my style of choreography and ran with it, which really made this experience even more enjoyable. – Riley

I definitely don’t have a favorite, but I can share my favorite moments in each of them. In You’ve Got the Trees there is some great footage under the waterfall with a close up of her feet in slow motion and later on hanging from the vines. Can You Let Me In has a scene where she is motionless and completely submerged under the water. I love the way the light from the surface reflects through her slowly moving hair, creating a stunning picture. Additionally, the colors are my favorite part of I Just Found Out Today. The contrast between the Fort Worth skyline, all the different greens in the trees and the purple night sky against Joamanuel Velazquez’s costume generate a beautiful composition. – Carl


What has it been like working on projects outside the studio and stage?

Dancers are accustomed to going from one ballet to the next. After so many months at home, any chance to be in a studio for a rehearsal is a welcome opportunity. This was my first experience having a solo choreographed with me since I have been a professional dancer, so ‘rewarding’ does not even begin to describe the feeling of dancing something created specifically on you. The solo project was just as much fun for us dancers as it is for those who are seeing the solos online because it reminded us of why we love what we do and provided hope that one day we will be back on stage. – Katelyn