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“Powerful ballet” might seem like a contradictory phrase, but choreographer Daniel Catanach specializes in dance that is beautiful and gritty; strong but vulnerable. This spring, he will debut Surface, an urban ballet commissioned by Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Artistic Director, April Berry. Together they’re creating an ambitious piece that blends dance and storytelling, adding dimension to the already stellar repertoire of DBDT.

Surface will debut at the Spring Celebration Series as part of the Soluna Festival, a highly anticipated event that Berry hopes will serve as a platform to highlight the innovative new work. “I’m looking to change up the conversation with DBDT, to bring more socially conscious works that look at things happening today in the world, and then project them through music and dance.”

Berry selected New York-based Catanach (of Nutcracker in the Lower fame) to help her realize her vision. “I’ve known Daniel for a number of years and I followed his work with the Urban Ballet Theater. I wanted his perspective – a choreographer who comes from an urban environment, who has worked with male dancers in a certain way.”

Catanach’s piece features an all-male cast and deals with the issues facing young men of color in today’s society. “We know there are things going on in today’s society like Ferguson, but that’s not the story we’re telling,” Catanach says. “We’re telling the story of guys who struggle with internal and external forces, who come together even though they have loss or negative things happening to them, and they pull it together and move forward. Because that’s what we do.”

Berry intentionally developed Surface’s city setting as a nod to our own. “We are a city, Dallas, and there are conversations and lives in progress and we may not all be aware what someone’s life is like,” she says. “This piece is a window into a part of somebody else’s life.”

The characters and setting of Surface are designed to provoke discussion, beyond the technical aspects of ballet, and to address issues that are relevant to people’s lives. Catanach has seen a decline in ballet that tells a story, but believes it’s time for narrative ballet to make a comeback. “The last three pieces I created were very neo-classical, but this piece is going to make people think.”

The message, however, will require audience participation. “We’re not giving answers. It’s not our job,” Catanach says. “As an artist, it’s not our job to interpret life; it’s our job to show life.”

While Catanach values open-endedness in his story, he does have a very specific goal in mind. “I hope that guys especially get pulled in. Dance doesn’t have to be some alien event… we hope that guys have relatable figures onstage so that they can enjoy it.”

Surface leaves nothing to chance; Catanach and Berry are carefully constructing a piece that takes on complex themes and allows the audience to explore them within the safety and beauty of dance. The results promise to be spectacular. If you want to catch the performance, mark your calendar for May 15-17. Please visit here to buy tickets.

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