Ballet Afrique takes audiences back to Harlem Renaissance

At the height of the Harlem Renaissance nearly a century ago, the famed Cotton Club featured some of the era’s best blues and jazz performers. The venue, which featured African-American entertainers, had a whites-only clientele.

Jamie Wright, center, and Precious Jewel Thompson, right, rehearse a burlesque performance at the Ballet Afrique studio on Monday. (Julia Robinson/ FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Singers, dancers and musicians weren’t allowed to mix with the club’s audience. And their families couldn’t watch loved ones take the stage.

But on Saturday, Austin’s Ballet Afrique imagines a different history inside the 1920s New York City hot spot. What if, despite rising racial tensions at the time, the Cotton Club had, for at least one night, opened its doors to an integrated audience? What if Duke Ellington, one of the venue’s signature artists, had threatened to walk out if it didn’t happen?

READ THE STORY: Ballet Afrique takes audiences back to the Harlem Renaissance

“Echoes of Harlem: A Night at the Cotton Club” examines the cultural complexities of the period while taking audiences back in time. To immerse in the swanky club experience of yesteryear, ticket holders will be asked to dress in roaring 1920s attire and no cellphones will be allowed at the show, which will be 8 p.m. Saturday at the Sterling Event Center in Northeast Austin.

We’re bringing the Austin Arts blog up to date by teasing to recent and still relevant arts stories on other American-Statesman and Austin360 pages. This snip was taken from Nancy Flores story on Ballet Afrique.

Watch: Video of one-person Iliad

On any regular day, people think Cami Alys is intense.

“I’m too much,” the Austin actor admits. “I should tone it back.”

Now Alys has been given permission to let the dam burst. Starting Thursday, she will play more than a dozen people — young and old, male and female — in a 90-minute, one-actor telling of Homer’s epic tale of war, “The Iliad.”

“I can live inside this,” she says at an East Austin coffee shop. “Still, I’m terrified. You know, I wanted to be challenged. Now I’m telling the whole story and impersonating all the characters.”

Cami Alys plays all the characters in ‘An Iliad’ Contributed.

Penfold Theatre Company and the Scottish Rite Theater have partnered to present “An Iliad,” which Lisa Peterson and Dennis O’Hare adapted from Robert Fagles’ translation of the ancient poem about the Trojan War. It focuses especially on the rage of Greek hero Achilles.

“There’s no real relaxing in this,” Alys says. “It’s a war story, but it’s about the sensuality of war and the horror of war. We watch: Achilles rages. Can he control it? That is in all of us. Can we control it?”

For the full story on “An Iliad,” go here.

Austin public art that pleases the public

There’s no telling which art will be readily embraced by the public.

But one can guess by the number of images that pop up online quickly.

‘atx’ has attracted a lot of snaps in the western sector of downtown. Contributed.
This tree-like sculpture floats like a cloud over Rock Rose in Domain Northside. Folks love it. Contributed by Community Impact.
'Spiral of the Galaxy' was an instant hit, especially with kids, in the plaza of the Dell Medical School. Contributed by CultureMap Austin.
‘Spiral of the Galaxy’ was an instant hit, especially with kids, in the plaza of the Dell Medical School. Contributed by CultureMap Austin.

Ballet Austin among Austin’s best

Don’t take the arts in Austin for granted. Because it wasn’t always this way.

During the past few weeks, I’ve rediscovered Austin’s arts. Not that I ignored them during the past 10 years. But with everything else going on in this city, it’s not easy to focus on one thing at a time.

I’m now reminded that Austin is home to first-rate symphony, opera, ballet and choral ensembles, along with equally potent theater, dance and performance troupes, art museums, community arts groups and public art projects.

Edward Carr (Beast) and Michelle Thompson (Belle) in “Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty and the Beast.” Contributed by Tony Spielberg

Thirty years ago, Austin artists showed enormous creativity. The scene crackled with energy. But it lacked top leadership, revenues and facilities. Those have arrived — or are on the way.

EXAMPLE: A new museum in Austin: It’s called the Blanton.

A search of reveals that, since the last time I checked 10 years ago, Austin arts groups have doubled, tripled or in some cases quadrupled their revenues.

No longer the skinny teen that needed reassurance and safeguarding. Rather the arts have reached a sort of gorgeous maturity that will always need steady reporting, storytelling and celebrating from all sorts of writers.

I was reminded of this at a matinee performance of Ballet Austin’s “Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty and the Beast,” packed as it was with every stripe of Austinite.

RELATED: Ballet Austin explores love, death and sex.

Demetria and Reid Wilson at Ballet Austin’s “Belle Redux.” A dancer, she convinced him to attend. He was grateful she did.

I do not hesitate to call Stephen Mills‘ and Graham Reynolds‘ ballet a masterpiece. Every moment was riveting, ravishing. It dealt with the emotional residue of sex in a way that made me shiver and, in the end, weep.

After the show, an Austin artist approached me at the H-E-B.

“Thank you so much for writing about the ballet the other day,” she said. “I haven’t paid enough attention to them and your article made me want to go. I adored the show. I won’t ignore them from now on.”

My own reporting interests still encompass a wide swath of Austin — social, historical, literary, etc. — but I won’t blink when it comes to exalting the arts whenever appropriate.

The Met releases 350K digital images for free

NBCNEWS handled the recent and vast digitizing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection with a handy and explanatory gallery. Smart move.

Here’s a sample of the free images:

NBC: “Wheat Field with Cypresses, oil on canvas by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Cypresses gained ground in Van Gogh’s work by late June 1889 when he resolved to devote one of his first series in Saint-Rémy to the towering trees.” Contributed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
NBC: “Christ Healing the Blind, oil on canvas by El Greco, circa 1570. El Greco painted this masterpiece of dramatic storytelling either in Venice or in Rome, where he worked after leaving Crete in 1567 and before moving to Spain in 1576. It illustrates the Gospel account of Christ healing a blind man by anointing his eyes. The two figures in the foreground may be the blind man’s parents.” Contributed by Metropolitan Museum of Art.
NBC: “The Harvesters, oil on wood by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565. This panel belongs to a series and the cycle originally included six paintings showing the times of the year. Bruegel’s series is a watershed in the history of western art, the religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed in favor of a new humanism.” Contributed by Metropolitan Museum of Art.



The art stars came out for the Blanton Gala

Not many galas come with two big stars. Make that three.

Michael and Jeanne Klein, honorees at the 2017 Blanton Gala. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

One obvious star attraction at the opulent Blanton Gala was the rehung permanent collection. In a mixture of formal and gallery attire, guests promenaded up the grand staircase early in the evening to view the American, European, Latin American, video and special exhibit rooms. They looked fantastic, more clearly articulated and presented, along with almost twice as much art on display as in the past at the 10-year-old University of Texas art museum.

RELATED: A new Museum in Austin: It’s called the Blanton.

The other two stars shined as well. Folks from New York, Santa Fe, Dallas, San Antonio and especially Houston joined Austinites in celebrating the Blanton’s very special patrons — Michael and Jeanne Klein. These art collectors have been with the Blanton and director Simone Wicha every step of the way. They donated “Stacked Waters,” which transformed the museum’s rather chilly atrium, and they led the way in acquiring and building “Austin,” Ellsworth Kelly‘s campus retreat now under construction — it is expected to open in a year.

Nina Katchadourian ‘Accent Elimination’ (2005) Six-channel video with sound, six televisions, three pedestals, 13:26 minutes. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin. Promised gift of Jeanne and Michael Klein in honor of Director Simone Jamille Wicha’s ten-year anniversary at the museum, 2016

Not coincidentally, the Kleins, who enjoyed two rapturous standing ovations during the gala and gave a very funny speech in tandem, have promised to give a collection 28 videos to the Blanton. It includes works by Tania Bruguera, Isaac Julien, Pipilotti Rist and others. The museum will share ownership of pieces by Eve Sussman and Ana Mendieta with the Whitney Museum of American Art.

As part of the reinstallation, the Blanton has created a gallery — where the contemporary installations once stood next to the soon-to-be-delivered Meredith Lounge — dedicated to the ongoing display of video works. Its inaugural installation is artist Javier Téllez’s Letter on the Blind For the Use of Those Who See” (2007), one of the Kleins’ promised gifts to the Blanton.

2Dance2Dream brings dance to all kids

The dancers at 2Dance2Dream stand in a circle in a Balance Dance Studios classroom. The music is thumping.

Pilar Rivera, 15, takes her turn dancing across the room. “I like McKenna teaching me,” she says. “I love the dance moves we’re doing.” Kelly West/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

One by one they take turns entering the circle and showing off their dance moves, but then there’s a pause.

A dancer hesitates. Another dancer takes her hand and they move into the circle to dance together.

This is the vision of 2Dance2Dream: that all kids can dance; that all kids will want to dance, given the encouragement, the patience and maybe some assistance.

The organization is the brainchild of Austinite Julie Lyles Carr, 49, and her daughter McKenna Carr, 22. Since 2011, local dance studios have opened up their classrooms for 2Dance2Dream to bring dance instruction to kids with special needs including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, chromosomal anomalies and undiagnosed differences.

“It has its own magic,” says Julie Lyles Carr, who serves in the women’s ministry at LifeAustin church and has written a parenting advice book, “Raising An Original.” “There’s nothing like seeing someone exceed what people think.

We’re bringing the Austin Arts blog up to date by teasing to recent and still relevant arts stories on other American-Statesman and Austin360 pages.

This was a snippet of Nicole Villalpando’s piece for dance for all.

Kaitlin Hopkins takes Texas State to the top in musical theater

In 2009, John Fleming had reached the end of his rope.

As head of the theater and dance department at Texas States University, he needed just the right talent to lead a new musical theater training program.

Kaitlin Hopkins, a former Broadway, film and television actress, has led Texas State’s musical theater program since 2009 and helped catapult the university’s performing arts program to No. 1 in Texas and No. 9 in the country. Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman


Fleming cold-called Broadway veteran Kaitlin Hopkins, who had recently gone on tour with “Dirty Dancing” and had signed up to return to Broadway in “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“You don’t know me,” Fleming said. “I’m the chairman of the theater program in San Marcos, and I’m calling because your name keeps coming up. We are looking for someone who has been in the industry for at least 20 years and has producing, performing, directing and fundraising experience. All three of the people we contacted mentioned you. Will you fly out here next week for an interview?”

Hopkins did not know Fleming. She hadn’t heard of Texas State University or San Marcos.

“I have to go do a matinee,” she replied. “I’ll call you later.”

She told her husband — actor and playwright Jim Price — to Google the place and figure out what Fleming was talking about. She concluded there was no way a university would hire her without the requisite advanced degrees, despite all her teaching and private coaching experience.

Hopkins’ response: “Look, no. I don’t think you really want me to get on a plane.”

Fleming: “Please just get on the plane. I have a feeling you are the right person for this job.”

It was a job that the daughter of lifelong theater pros didn’t know she wanted.

“There was the challenge and promise of creating the training program I wished I’d had,” Hopkins says. “I liked the idea, too, of condensing my 40 years of life experience. It wasn’t just my career, it was the life I had led — that my family created for me — that made me uniquely qualified. This would be really exciting: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something from scratch and build a program. I’ll hear them out.”

She swiftly wrote up a 32-page prospectus with one-year, five-year and 10-year plans to present in San Marcos.

“On the plane ride back to Boston, we were both speechless,” Hopkins recalls. “Jim turned to me: ‘Are we moving to Texas?’ Me: ‘I don’t know, I think we might be.’”

We’re bringing the Austin Arts blog up to date by teasing to recent and still relevant arts stories on other American-Statesman and Austin360 pages.

This is a portion of a big story on how a Broadway veteran is integrating musical theater training to make the San Marcos school among the best in the country.

Exhibit shows ‘Another Side’ of Austin graffiti artist


His graffiti has breathed life into Austin streets for more than 20 years. It’s been featured throughout Europe, in documentaries and group exhibits.

Gallery assistant Corrie Ferguson works on hanging the identifying pins near the artwork of Nathan “Sloke One” Nordstrom at the Sam Z. Coronado Gallery at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. The show, titled “Another Side,” will open Saturday and run through March 25. DEBORAH CANNON/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But after helping shape the local graffiti scene, native Austinite Nathan “Sloke One” Nordstrom has found another way to push the boundaries of the art form.

With his first large-scale solo show opening Feb. 4 at the Sam Z. Coronado Gallery at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, Nordstrom paves the way for local graffiti artists to move from the streets to the galleries.

“I think (the exhibit) can show emerging graffiti writers that if you continue to practice and develop your skills that it isn’t just limited to the streets, trains or rooftops,” he says. “Graffiti-inspired art can and does have a place in galleries.”

The exhibit “Another Side: Selected Works by Nathan Nordstrom AKA Sloke One” will feature photographs of his graffiti from the U.S. and abroad, graffiti pieces on canvas and graffiti-inspired abstract art, which will all be available for sale. …

We’re bringing the Austin Arts blog up to date by teasing to recent and still relevant arts stories on other American-Statesman and Austin360 pages.

This was a peek at Nancy Flores’ story on graffiti artist Nathan “Sloke One” Nordstrom.

Austin Opera leader turns to Big Data


This past fall, Austin Opera flew in Annie Burridge, a candidate for general director, to watch its staging of “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Austin Opera general director Annie Burridge is a coloratura soprano but was more drawn to the business end of the art. Contributed by Paul Sirochman

“I sat down in the hall,” says the former managing director of Opera Philadelphia. “The second the performance started, I bolted forward in my seat. I couldn’t believe the caliber of the musicianship.”

At that night’s dinner, Burridge was seated next to the show’s composer, Kevin Puts, who had won a Pulitzer Prize for his first opera, “Silent Night.”

“Kevin was nearly in tears at how happy he was with the performance,” she says of the piece adapted from a famous film and first staged by Minnesota Opera. “(Artistic director) Richard Buckley had worked with him on editing it. That’s so important for new works. You know, there’s usually not a lot of rewards for opera companies doing subsequent performances. Everyone wants to give the premiere. Austin gave Kevin and his opera a key second hearing.”

Quietly keen with short hair and acute eyes, Burridge is a coloratura soprano with a special zeal not just for the art form but also for big data and the ways that sophisticated marketing research can tune opera to serve diverse audiences.  …

We’re bringing the Austin Arts blog up to date by teasing to recent and still relevant arts stories on other American-Statesman and Austin360 pages.

This is a key piece on Austin Opera’s new general manager: