Powerful and eloquent, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Sean Smith

Powerful and eloquent, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Sean Smith

Boundless energy, bursting leaps and superb technique. Dancer Sean Smith moves rabbit quick with a grounded grace all his own. He radiates a palpable kinetic energy onstage, whether it’s lyrical expressiveness in Christopher Huggins’ Night Run or a quiet fierceness in Elisa Monte’s Pigs and Fishes.

In his second season with the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Smith brings a high-powered pizzazz to the ensemble. His thin, 5’10” frame works to his advantage. “Sean is very intelligent and moves with a sensibility knowing how his body works and what his limitations are which makes him an exciting and interesting artist to watch,” says Melissa M. Young, the company’s associate artistic director.

At 25, the Canadian native is also a budding choreographer and has created works featured in the company’s annual Black on Black fundraiser performance and other showcases. “Sean has a bright future as a great dancer, choreographer and even a manager,” says Ann M. Williams, the company’s founder and artist director. “He’s a wonderful teacher, he loves working with people and leading them through very meaningful tasks and activities.”

Raised in Abbotsford, British Columbia, on the outskirts of Vancouver, Smith followed his older sister into dance. He was smitten seeing dance on television, from the Bolshoi Ballet to Michael Jackson videos. He intently studied the choreography, mimicked the moves and made up little dances around his house using tables, chairs and whatever else as props. “Watching the movie White Nights with Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov was a really big thing for me,” he says. “And Tap with Hines really sent it over the top. Learning from a television how to move my body around just got the ball rolling.”

At 6, he took tap, then ballet, modern and musical theater followed. By 16, he was determined to become a professional dancer. Four days a week he commuted by Greyhound Bus to Vancouver, making the two-hour round trip alone, to take jazz and tap classes and audition for jobs.

One of his most influential teachers was Rachael Poirier, owner of Danzmode Productions in Burnaby, British Columbia. “She opened the doors and showed me different places I could go, and what I should audition for and different companies I should look at,” Smith says. He still wears his black Danzmode Productions warm-up jacket as a reminder of where his journey began. Smith’s self-determination was evident from day one. “He always worked hard and concentrated on the task at hand,” Poirier says. “He came from a background of modest means, but he never complained about his lack of material support.”

Smith ended up studying at Goh Ballet Academy, relatively late at age 17, then with the contemporary Ballet British Columbia.

Dancer Sean Smith is known for his musicality and keen sense of awareness.

In 2007 on advise from Poirier, Smith moved to Toronto, where he landed dancing gigs, one of which was at Ballet Creole, the contemporary dance company inspired by Afro-Caribbean cultural traditions, ballet and modern dance.  It took a while for him to find his niche. “When I auditioned for modern dance companies, they would always say, ‘You should be in a ballet company, you’re so classical,’ because that’s what I was able to do naturally. Every ballet company I auditioned for told me I needed to do modern dance, with a very strong emphasis.”

Toronto opened a world of possibilities for the young dancer after seeing for the first time the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dallas Black Dance Theatre that showcased at the International Association of Blacks in Dance. When Milton Myers, the Ailey choreographer, set a piece on Ballet Creole, Smith’s career started taking shape. He became interested in Myers’ work and the Ailey company repertory. When the Ailey School held its first Canadian audition in Toronto a few months later, Smith tried out. He won a three-year fellowship and moved to New York City.

While at the Ailey School, his demanding schedule left him physically and mentally exhausted at times; three daily classes, evening rehearsals and performances, and working odd jobs to survive financially. But he pulled through, gaining a new perspective and a deeper resolve to realize his dream. “There were times when I didn’t know if I could make it through, I was so drained,” Smith says. “It tested my passion. Even at the lowest moment, what brought me to the Ailey School still shined bright, which was wanting to perform Ailey’s choreography.” Smith was chosen to dance in the final “yellow section” of Revelations, Ailey’s signature work, with Matthew Rushing and Renee Robinson for its 50th Anniversary celebration and in Judith Jamison’s Divining, her first piece for the Ailey company, at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. He also performed in Ailey’s Memoria at New York City Center. Smith also choreographed works for student showcases at the school.

Smith auditioned in 2008 for regional companies, including Dallas Black Dance Theatre mainly because its repertory includes works from Ailey School instructors Christopher Huggins and Troy Powell and others, but ended up finishing his training. The timing worked out. In 2010, Dallas Black Dance, which has 13 performers, was looking for a sixth male dancer. “I called and flew down and did a private audition. I bought a one-way ticket hoping it would work out. And it did,” he says.

Dancer Sean Smith. Photo by Steven Ray.

The company’s repertory of jazz, modern, contemporary ballet and musical theater was a natural fit. Dancers are also encouraged to choreograph, teach and perform outreach in the local public schools. “My interest in movement was always broader than classical, so I’m very happy to be part of a company like DBDT,” Smith says. “With my training which is diverse, I’m able to use all of it including the classical ballet.”

Currently, the company is rehearsing Milton Myers’ Pacing, the Nina Simone Project by Dianne McIntyre and Angelitos Negros, a Donald McKayle piece set to Roberta Flack’s music for its Cultural Awareness Series Feb. 23-26 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Wyly Theatre.

“Sean is extremely focused regardless if it’s rehearsal or a main stage performance,” Young says. “He’s in it from start to finish. Everything he does is well thought out. He’ll ask questions because he likes to be clear and know what he’s doing. I can see him pushing himself and wanting to be better than the last time. And how he can take the criticism and apply it and make the next performance even greater than before.”

Away from the studio and stage, Smith relaxes by cooking and baking for friends and writing on his blog. After moving around a lot over the past few years, he’s anxious to put down roots. “I plan on being here for a good amount of time,” he says. “I want to make a home here and continue to grow and develop with this company.”



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