Leadership turnover at Austin Creative Alliance

Marcy Hoen, executive director of the Austin Creative Alliance has resigned from her position, the alliance’s board of trustees announced today.

John Riedie, an alliance board member, has been appointed interim CEO.

The city’s largest arts service organization, the alliance umbrellas independent projects and artists, offers access to health insurance and liability insurance and offers training and other assistance to arts organizations and artists.

Hoen had held the post since 2011. She said she plans to launch a new arts and music promotion initiative.

Riedie is an artist manager whose clients include Mother Falcon, Ruby Jane and T. Bird and the Breaks. Riedie assumes the interim position immediately and said that the alliance will begin a national search for a new CEO.

 

Thursday arts pick: “Emily Fleisher: Astro-Turf”

Big becomes small and small becomes big in the delightful work of Emily Fleisher.

Her solo exhibit “Astro-Turf” opens tonight at Women & Their Work with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m.

Using craft-store materials like flocking, cardboard, model railroad supplies, Fleisher plays with scale and animates landscapes. A miniature grove of trees tumbles out of wheelbarrow made of wood. Or else an itty bitty verdant hillside spills out of a book.

"Earth Moving," plywood, plaster, flock, metal. 2014.
“Earth Moving,” plywood, plaster, flock, metal. 2014.

 

Says Fleisher: “As I settled in (suburban San Antonio) a few years ago, I became hypersensitive to the things that pop out as atypical in the rather bleak suburban landscape. These interruptions break my expectations of my environment and feel like mini moments of revelation. I feel that the most ordinary of things are withholding moments of insight into the monumental.”

"Pocked-Sized,"  found book, armature, plaster, flocking, model railroad materials. 2013
“Pocked-Sized,”
found book, armature, plaster, flocking, model railroad materials. 2013

Review: Hyde Park Theatre’s “A Bright New Boise”

(This review is by American-Statesman freelancer Cate Blouke)

Samuel D. Hunter wants to make you uncomfortable. He also wants to comment on corporate America, religious fanaticism, family relationships, and the nature of art – which is a lot of ground to cover in a 90-minute show.

“A Bright New Boise,” playing now through Oct. 25 at Hyde Park Theatre, tries to do too much.

Set in the dingy break room of a Hobby Lobby in Boise, Idaho, the play brings together a hodgepodge of quirky characters and big themes that struggle to cohere in a digestible way.

First, there’s the deliberate discomfort: Hunter’s script calls for a video feed of surgical procedures to intermittently appear on a TV in the break room. It’s a big screen, positioned so that there’s no real escape from the images other than to look away. And it’s a strange experience to sit through a play and deliberately avoid looking at the actors for long stretches of time.

At least the video makes the characters uncomfortable, too, but it’s never particularly clear why Hunter has included it in the play. Unless, of course, the videos serve as an extension of his Leroy character (Chase Brewer), an art-school student who deliberately makes people uncomfortable.

Chief among those victims is Will (Benjamin Summers), the lead character, whose tarnished past with a religious cult functions as the mystery that drives the narrative. After something scandalous happens up north, Will comes to Boise to start over and try to cultivate a relationship with his estranged son Alex (Nate Jackson).

Jackson and Brewer (recently seen in Capital T Theatre’s production of “Punkplay”) offer another excellent set of performances together. While Brewer takes on the role of assertive and over-protective older brother, Jackson’s sullen teenage moodiness contrasts with the typical aggression of his recent roles.

Summers stalwartly carries the narrative burden and convincingly shifts between awkward insecurity and vehement fanaticism as the tension builds. Perhaps the most interesting character, though, is the one we know least about: the socially inept but exuberant Anna (Katie Kohler).

Mark Pickell’s set is outstandingly realistic – creating a point-perfect replica of every depressing break room ever, right down to the tatty fake plant and passive aggressive refrigerator notes.

Although the show has a fair bit of comic relief, primarily in the form of the harried and foul-mouthed store manager Pauline (Rebecca Robinson), the overall effect is unfortunately haphazard and unsatisfying.

“A Bright New Boise” continues through Oct. 25. www.hydeparktheatre.org

Review: Ballet Austin’s “The Firebird” and “Agon”

(This review is by American-Statesman freelance writer Claire Christine Spera.)

Ballet Austin’s productions of “Agon” and “The Firebird” at the Long Center made for an evening of contrasts threaded together with a commonality: Both ballets are set to Igor Stravinsky scores, beautifully performed in this case by the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

The differences between “Agon” and “The Firebird” are stark: Abstract dance versus story ballet; basic leotards and tights versus Russian-themed character costuming; a plain stage versus scenic design; and classic George Balanchine choreography versus that by Ballet Austin’s artistic director, Stephen Mills.

In “Agon,” presented by Ballet Austin by arrangement with The George Balanchine Trust, the choreography demands exactitude. The simple garments and adornment-free stage, which features only a blue background, leave us to focus exclusively on the dance, set to a Stravinsky score with memorable horn melodies. The classical vocabulary of arabesques, pirouettes and tableaus comes with contemporary flairs. The women, though dancing en pointe, bend their supporting legs and perform flat-footed turns; meanwhile, the ensemble unfurls their legs into high extensions and thrusts the hips forward, out of classical alignment. In comical moments, small body wiggles had the audience laughing. The tableaus often have the women balancing in one-legged positions between male partners.

From the series of duets, trios and quartets that make up the ballet, the long lines of Ashley Lynn Sherman and Christopher Swaim at the Sept. 27 performance stood out. In a moment of contrast, they both came to a hunched-forward position, with one of Sherman’s legs wrapped around the back of Swaim’s neck.

 

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From the moment the overture begins for Mills’ version of “The Firebird,” we’re thrust into the foreboding realm of an enchanted forest, ruled over by Kastchei the Immortal (Edward Carr, in a creepy skeleton-esque costume). The guttural humming of strings gives way to outbursts of energy when the Firebird enters, flashing around the stage in a red-gold tutu (all sets and costumes were on loan from Louisville Ballet). As the Firebird, Jaime Lynn Witts transformed her body, incorporating a twitching head and quivering arms to bring the wings of the creature to life. Her one-legged hops in arabesque gave a flighty air to scene.

Mills’ choreography has many lovely moments. Nine princesses — led by Sherman, with whom Ivan (Frank Shott) falls in love — pluck golden apples from a tree that they toss and roll around the forest. When the evil Kastchei captures Ivan, the ensemble of castle guards, wives and princesses fills the stage, creating a feast of dynamic visual patterns accented by the Russian-flavored costuming. Ultimately, the Firebird rushes to Ivan’s aid, and though winds up mortally wounded by Kastchei, Ivan discovers the egg that contains the skeleton king’s soul and smashes it to the ground, giving his protectress new life.

Ballet Austin’s program over the weekend showed that just as the Firebird is reborn, so is ballet; from classical to contemporary, today’s ballet dancers are expected to do it all.

City of Austin cultural funding allocation for FY 2015

The city of Austin has allocated its FY 2015 cultural contracts monies.

Arts organizations receiving $100,000 or more in organizational support are listed below. The maximum the city awards in organizational support is $200,000.

zach-topfer-3

 

  1. Zach  Theatre:  $200,000
  2. Ballet Austin: $195,200
  3. Long Center: $195,200
  4. Contemporary Austin: $192,800
  5. Theatre Action Project: $190,400
  6. Austin Lyric Opera: $190,400
  7. Austin Symphony Orchestra: $190,400
  8. Conspirare: $190,400
  9. One World Theatre: $190,400
  10. Austin Children’s Museum/The Thinkery: $185,600
  11. Austin Creative Alliance: $165,800
  12. Tapestry Dance Company: $163,500
  13. Mexic-Arte Museum: $158,847
  14. Austin Classical Guitar: $146,515
  15. Austin Playhouse $120,796
  16. Fuse Box Festival: $100,000

 

The complete list of FY 2015 cultural contracts allocations can be seen at http://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/EGRSO/fy2015_cafp_awards.pdf

Review: Mary Moody Northen Theatre’s “Love and Information”

(This review is by American-Statesman freelance writer Claire Canavan)

In the modern world, information flows freely and it’s easy to get swept up in the current.

In “Love and Information,” British playwright Caryl Churchill explores the ways relationships function (or don’t) within the fragmented nature of contemporary life. David M. Long directs the play’s regional premiere at St. Edward’s University, now running through October 5.

Jeopardy-style trivia questions greet the audience before the show begins, but soon the questions scroll across the screens so quickly they become a blur of nonsense. The actors emerge for a wild opening dance number featuring neon hula-hoops and a song about DNA. The show then abruptly shifts into realism, with a short but punchy scene about a couple with a secret.

Aly Jones and Jake McVicker in the regional premiere of "Love And Information" by Carly Churchill at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward's University. Photo by Bret Brookshire.
Aly Jones and Jake McVicker in the regional premiere of “Love And Information” by Carly Churchill at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward’s University. Photo by Bret Brookshire.

These tonal shifts — from the surreal to the familiar — are a signature of Churchill’s work, and part of the fun of the show. Like many of her other plays, “Love and Information” does not rely on a linear plot. The show unfurls as a series of over fifty different vignettes, some almost overlapping, that show us slices of present-day life.

A woman on vacation in a remote location worries about her inability to access the Internet. A group of friends watch a wedding video and lament that they can’t remember anything from that day that wasn’t recorded. A couple fears climate change but is paralyzed by inaction. Some scenarios are poignant, some are funny, and others are downright bizarre, but they are all held together by Churchill’s snappy dialogue.

Under Long’s direction, the fast pace never lets up, and the staging is dynamic and physical. The actors are constantly in motion. Veteran actors Janelle Buchanan and Rick Roemer ground their scenes with the weight of experience, while the student cast members bring an infectious energy to each scenario.

The structure of “Love and Information” reinforces the content. The characters struggle to process information much in the same way the audience must absorb the fragmented style of the show. The randomness of the way the scenes unfold mimics the disjointed nature of web surfing. It is an of-the-moment piece that mixes social commentary with old-fashioned human relationships. It is a whirlwind, and one well-worth getting swept up by.

 “Love and Information” continues through October 5, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Mary Moody Northen Theatre, 3001 S. Congress Ave.  $8-$22. http://think.stedwards.edu/theatre/

Reporter’s notebook: Dancing with Balanchine

Earlier this month, Paul Boos, a former Balanchine dancer and a master répétiteur with the Balanchine Trust, the organization that licenses the work of the legendary choreographer, spent two weeks with Ballet Austin setting the choreography of Balanchine’s “Agon,” on the company.

Paul Boos, a master répétiteur with Balanchine Trust and a former Balanchine dancer, works with Ballet Austin dancers on “Agon.”
Paul Boos, a master répétiteur with Balanchine Trust and a former Balanchine dancer, works with Ballet Austin dancers on “Agon.”

Ballet Austin will perform “Agon” this weekend at the Long Center in a program that also includes Stephen Mills’ “The Firebird.”

At age 15, Boos relocated by himself to New York from North Dakota and soon afterward landed a scholarship to Balanchine’s American Ballet Theatre School. Boos was asked to join New York City Ballet at age 18.

Since retiring from dancing in 1990, Boos has been a sanctioned Balanchine répétiteur — a unique and personal connection to the legacy of the dancemaker everybody closest to called “Mr. B.”

During an interview with the American-Statesman, Boos reflected on what it was like to dance for Balanchine. A few of Boos’ ruminations, which did not make it into the published story, are offered here:

“Mr. B went through a process of initiating people. He wanted to see how a person’s body functioned. Like a sculptor he was constantly pushing, pulling on a dancer’s body, seeing what your body could actually do.

“Mr. B compared training dancers to training horses, and quite accurately too.”

“He worked in extremes and he wanted to know what the extremes were with each dancer: How much your feet can bend, how much your legs can open, how high your legs can extend, how high you can jump.”

“He was extremely critical and he never gave praise. Still we felt that he was 100 percent invested in us.”

Read the feature story on Boos’ work with Ballet Austin here: http://shar.es/1ac3ZJ