Austin arts ahead: Best of the upcoming dance concerts

Check out our entire roundup of what’s on Austin’s cultural horizon this season:

Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company. Photo by Kevin Gliner.
Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company. Photo by Kevin Gliner.

And here’s a few of our picks for the most noteworthy dance concerts:

In April,  Ballet Austin pays homage to one of Austin best-known alt classical composers with “The Graham Reynolds Project.”

Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company will again host the Austin Dance Festival next March as well as debut two new pieces including “True Story” in December.

Oct 1-10, Tapestry Dance Company debuts its latest, “In Your Shoes” and reprises its popular “Of Mice & Music: A Jazz Nutcracker,” Dec. 10-20.

International dance legend Twyla Tharp brings her 50th anniversary tour to UT’s Bass Concert Hall on Oct. 20.

Blue Lapis Light aerial dance company opens its new studio with “Edge of Grace” Sept. 18-26.

Blue Lapis Light aerial dance company.
Blue Lapis Light aerial dance company.

Dance review: Ballet Austin’s “Hamlet”

(This review is written by American Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)

In Stephen Mills’ ballet version of “Hamlet,” the titular character is a man of multiple dimensions. While slowly slipping into madness, the line between reality and the imagined becomes blurred; thoughts mesh with action, visions with follow through. A haunting Philip Glass score, played lived by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, set the mood at the Long Center for the Performing Arts this weekend.

Ballet Austin's "Hamlet."
Ballet Austin’s “Hamlet.”

To illustrate the multiple facets of Hamlet’s personality, Ballet Austin’s version of the Shakespeare play stars not one but four Hamlets. There’s our tormented protagonist (danced by Frank Shott at the Sunday matinee), plus three echoes of himself (James Fuller, Oliver Greene-Cramer and Orlando Julius Canova), all working to avenge the untimely death of his father at the hand of his uncle, Claudius (we see Hamlet’s father as a ghost, played by Artistic Director Mills in a white, coat-tailed suit). It is as though Hamlet is never alone; his shadows follow him, dancing in canon behind him to create a ripple effect.

As readers of the original Shakespeare work will recall, madness abounds in “Hamlet,” and Ashley Lynn Sherman’s performance of Ophelia presented no exception. She had a way of bringing us into her crazy world, where movement and emotion fused in displays of hair pulling, limb flinging and body curling on the bank of a river. She sank — both figuratively and literally: figuratively, into madness; literally, into that cold water. She dipped her hair in a water basin that lined the entire front of the stage, and flipped her head up as she moved across the space, generating her own mist.

Behind Ophelia, three echoes of herself floated in flesh-toned chiffon dresses (Grace Morton, Chelsea Marie Renner and Brittany Strickland), creating the effect of slow-motion movement under water. The stage, punctuated with upright single-stem red roses and darkly magical lighting (scenic design by Jeffrey A. Main and Mills, lighting by Tony Tucci) evoked a dream world — perhaps one where Ophelia would finally find peace. The scene ended with Sherman suspended in the air against the backdrop, bathed softly in yellow light: sinking, sinking, sinking. Her death is exquisite.

Back at the castle, there’s more death. Hamlet swordfights Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, who has blamed Hamlet for Ophelia’s death, killing him, but not before Laertes stabs him with his poison-tipped sword. As Hamlet begins to feel the poison’s effect, his mother, Gertrude, succumbs to a poison-laced drink, concocted by Claudius. Realizing what has happened, Hamlet stabs Claudius to death.

Each of the four Hamlets hovers over a death, taking on an otherworldly quality. It is hard to know if the scene is real, or just how Hamlet wishes it would be.

Breaking String Theater’s “Gusev”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)

Say “Anton Chekhov,” and warm and fuzzies don’t exactly come to mind. This is certainly the case with Breaking String Theater’s production of “Gusev,” adapted and directed by Artistic Director Graham Schmidt from the Chekhov short story by the same title.

Based upon Chekhov’s sailing experience traveling home from the Russian penal colony of Sakhalin off the coast of Siberia, “Gusev,” playing at the Salvage Vanguard, chronicles a harrowing, exhausting, bleak 19th century journey — emphasis on bleak.

Titular character Gusev (Keith Machekanyanga) is haunted by what he experiences en route: sailors and soldiers hacking with sickness (Sergio Alvarado, Brock England, Hunter Sturgis and Reagan Tankersley), a priest who gives little comfort (Zac Crofford) and, when death strikes, a sea burial. Those who remain alive do so barely. The audience seating, available on three sides of the stage, is enveloped by th

Stephen Price (Pavel Ivanych), Reagan Tankersley (Stepan), Keith Machekanyanga (Gusev), Sergio Alvarado (Sergei), Hunter Sturgis (Vitya), and Brock England (Dima) in 'Gusev' at Salvage Vanguard Theater through Aug. 29. Contributed by Will Hollis Photography
Stephen Price (Pavel Ivanych), Reagan Tankersley (Stepan), Keith Machekanyanga (Gusev), Sergio Alvarado (Sergei), Hunter Sturgis (Vitya), and Brock England (Dima) in ‘Gusev’ at Salvage Vanguard Theater through Aug. 29.
Contributed by Will Hollis Photography

e wooden planks of an imagined, creaky ship (the works of set designer Ia Enstera and sound designer Robert Fisher work well together), making us feel as though we’re along for the ride, too.

Even Gusev’s sleep is tormented — dreams afford no escape. The nighttime hallucinations feature two dancers in white (Jenny Alperin and Amy Morrow) performing choreography by Erica Gionfriddo. Their silky-smooth costuming ripples as they unfurl their limbs and partner up with Gusev and the sailors, leading them through ruminative gestures.

We don’t get much of a backstory on the characters — who they really are, why they’re here, on this ship. What we do get is told through beautiful black/white shadow-puppet projections (designed by Julia M. Smith), a fitting aesthetic for the dark “Gusev.” With a runtime of one hour, it’s difficult to delve too deeply into their pasts. The story itself leaves something to be desired.

That said, “Gusev” is an escape from the everyday — a hellish reality, but an escape from our world, nonetheless.

“Gusev” continues through Aug. 29 at Salvage Vanguard Theater.

Theater review: Zach Theatre’s “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)


Imagine a musical with no plot, no dialogue — just music, song and dance: boom, boom, boom! Welcome to Broadway’s “Sophisticated Ladies,” the 1981 Donald McKayle concept based on Duke Ellington’s music.

More song-and-dance revue than traditional musical, Zach Theatre’s rendition of “Sophisticated Ladies” (directed by Abe Reybold) wows with playful (and skillful) tap dancing, costumes that range from the bedazzled to funky fresh, and some seriously powerful singing, not the least of which is performed by Jennifer Holliday of “Dreamgirls” fame (her performance as Effie “Melody” White garnered her a Tony Award for best actress in a musical).

Oh, and then there’s Ellington’s wonderful music, played by a 15-member onstage orchestra.

There’s nothing not to like, and there’s plenty to rave about.

Let’s start with the magnetic Holliday, shall we? For each number, she wore what must’ve been six-inch heels, and elegant outfits that glittered under Michelle Habeck’s lighting design. She didn’t do much onstage but sing — and she didn’t have to.

Zach Theatre's "Sophisticated Ladies"
Zach Theatre’s “Sophisticated Ladies”

In “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” Holliday’s voice was inflected with the perfect edge of fun that did this classic absolute justice. The icing on the cake was when six tap-dancing men in white bellhop uniforms joined her (the talented J.P. Qualters, Tony Merriwether, Matthew Shields, William James Harris III, Leslie R. Hethcox and Phil Young).

In Act II, Holliday’s performance of “Something to Live For” was met with a standing ovation. “I’ve got it bad, and that ain’t good,” she crooned in a crystal-studded evening gown. She was simply spectacular.

There’s practically as much dancing as singing in “Sophisticated Ladies,” and Broadway choreographer Dominique Kelley’s steps, whether tap, lyrical, jazz or swing, hit the mark.

And tap fans, take note: Zach Theatre drew on local talent in the form of the charismatic Shields (former Tapestry Dance Company member and cofounder of Hyperfeet Productions) and the exuberant Merriwether (current Tapestry dancer).

In “Kinda Dukish,” Shields and Merriwether tested their balance and coordination (both are working perfectly fine, incidentally) as they tapped up and down a series of stairs, their feet matching the pings of the piano — this, after Shields had already shuffled atop a suitcase. Their rhythmic feet, together with the band’s music, had the audience hooting and hollering.

“Sophisticated Ladies” abounds with flirtation — between a hot-pink-swimsuit-clad woman on holiday at the beach and her cocktail servers, and among the trio of “Dancers in Love” (Afra Hines, Brandon O’Neal and Harris), in which snapping fingers and gentle body slaps created a rhythm on top of the music.

Zach Theatre's "Sophisticated Ladies." Photo by Kirk Tuck.
Chanel Haynes-Schwartz in Zach Theatre’s “Sophisticated Ladies.” Photo by Kirk Tuck.

There are moments of longing, too, such as Chanel Haynes-Schwartz’s intoxicatingly soulful solo “In a Sentimental Mood,” in which she wears a long-trained dress that spills down the stairs.

“Sophisticated Ladies” may have no plot, but that’s the precise argument for going to see it. It’s just plain fun; there’s nothing more you need.

“Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies” continues through Aug. 23 at Zach Theatre. Tickets: $25-$73.

Dance review: Sky Candy’s “Swings Asunder”

 (This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)


Entering the darkness of the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theater over the weekend was like going back to the womb. An embryonic display greeted the eye: Four silks, lit in glowing red, hung from above, each containing a folded body. On the ground were three more bodies, lying perfectly still beneath shimmering mesh. Then, they began to move, unfurling themselves from their cocoons, coming alive. 11046351_976877095698465_162325648489054144_n

So began “Swings Asunder,” a production performed by Austin-based aerial dance troupe Sky Candy and written, directed and choreographed by Nathan Brumbaugh. Set to Austin composer Justin Sherburn’s atmospheric music, the seven-dancer performance swept from the embryo to birth to adulthood, with aerial dance the cornerstone of the movement. The audience seating, configured around three sides of the stage, lent an intimate quality to a special evening.

Projected on a screen were words, along with their definitions, that marked the phases of the dancers’ development — words like “nascent” (“just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential”), “ipseity” (“selfhood; individual identity”), “sorority” (“club of women”) and “fraternity” (“club of men”).

In their nascent phase, the dancers wore nude underwear and flesh-toned netted fabric over their faces, their individuality masked. As they clambered up and down the vertical silks and slowly writhed to a standing position on the floor, their fascinatingly toned musculature was on full display. As they developed towards ipseity, they began to tear away their facial coverings, bringing their individual features into focus.

“Swings Asunder” demonstrated the range of the performers as they told a story of personal growth through floor acrobatics, hand balancing, pole dancing and twirling on rings — techniques as varied as the individuals performing them: Cory Allen, Hailley Lauren, Taryn Lavery, Amy Myers, Leila Noone, Caroline Poe and Jamie Roberts.

As they grow up, a story unfolds of a boy and girl. Groom’s and bride’s outfits descend from the ceiling, and they wed, though the bride is reticent. A child, attached to the bride’s white petticoats by an umbilical cord, emerges; we understand.

The child grows up, a girl who prefers wifebeaters, jeans and suspenders to dresses. The mother and father each play their roles: mother in high heels and an A-line dress, father in a suit jacket. There’s tension between who the parents want their child to be and who their child is. “Is that a boy or a girl?” outsiders ask.

In a moment of reconciliation, mother, father and daughter clamber up on a bedframe as it is hoisted into the air, embracing each other. It’s this last phase that’s the sweetest: Acceptance.


For tickets and more information:

Dance review: KDH Dance Company’s “More Than One Complication”

 (This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)

The show hasn’t started yet, but the stage of the AustinVentures Studio Theater is already full — of drums, xylophones, marimbas and sixxens, a 19-keyed metallophone designed by Iannis Xenakis for his four-movement “Pléïades.” There are six of each instrument, and they take up so much space they spill into the wings on either end of the stage. c17d6cc7-b42f-4ea8-87ed-58bdeb6dba27

But the instruments, played by line upon line percussion and guest percussionists, comprise only half the show. The other half is Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company’s performance of “More Than One Complication,” set to the chiming, rumbling “Pléïades.”

And how delightfully complicated it is.

Artistic Director Kathy Dunn Hamrick invited three guest artists to interrupt her choreographic process by working with her eight dancers. The result was not separate pieces, but rather a single cohesive work comprising four choreographic sensibilities. Charles O. Anderson, Lisa Nicks and Kate Warren, along with Hamrick, are the co-creators of “More Than One Complication.”

The dancing itself went up, down and all around; the only constant was its fabulous inconsistency. You didn’t know where it was going next. You were there to live in the moment, along with the dancers, and they were clearly relishing the opportunity.

There was a striking section danced to the pinging sounds of the xylophones. The dancers lined up across the stage, their backs to the audience, and made a sneezing sound before launching towards the audience in a frenetic, funny fashion, breaking out of their horizontal line. As they tossed their limbs, it was almost as though you could see their energy being released into the ether. A smattering of notes rippled through the dancers, causing them to scatter across the stage with twitching shoulders and skittish lunges.

In a section set to the thrumming of drums, the dancers formed a circle that they collapsed and expanded in turn. Slower moments of unfurling their limbs gave way to falling motions. As their feet hit the floor, they made their own rhythmic music.

Towards the middle of the 45-minute piece, Mariclaire Gamble stoically handed a water bottle and towel to a fellow dancer. While she drank and toweled off, the drumming reached a crescendo. Yes, sometimes it’s best to take a moment to yourself in the midst of hysteria.

In the final moments, the dancers joined hands and walked off stage together. Life is complicated, they seemed to be saying, but it’s better together.

Austin Critics’ Table nominations: 2014-2015

The nominations for the 2014-2015 Austin Critics’ Table Awards are in.

Now in its 23rd year, the Critics’ Table in an informal group of arts writers from the American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle who annually recognize achievement in the arts.

The free awards ceremony is at 7 p.m. June 1 at Cap City Comedy Club.


Production, Drama
All the Way, Zach Theatre
Am I White?, Salvage Vanguard Theater
The Christians, Hyde Park Theatre
Cock, Theatre en Bloc
Love and Information, Mary Moody Northen Theatre
Refugia, UT Department of Theatre & Dance

"Everything is Established," Physical Plant Theatre
“Everything is Established,” Physical Plant Theatre

Production, Comedy
Cenicienta, Zach Theatre
Detroit, Capital T Theatre
Everything Is Established, Physical Plant
Peter and the Starcatcher, Zach Theatre
The Suicide, Paper Chairs
Thr3e Zisters, Salvage Vanguard Theater

Production, Musical
100 Heartbreaks, Joanna Garner
Bright Now Beyond, Salvage Vanguard Theater
Chicago, Half & Half Productions
Footloose, Summer Stock Austin
Kiss Me, Kate, Texas State University Department of Theatre and Dance
Stone Soup, Summer Stock Austin

Cassie Abate, Kiss Me, Kate
Derek Kolluri, Cock/Jacob’s Ladder
David Long, Love and Information
Charles Ney, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Caroline Reck, Cenicienta
Dominique Serrand, Refugia
M. Scott Tatum & Julianna Wright, Chicago
Yuri Umov, Thr3e Zisters

Acting in a Leading Role
Liz Beckham, As You Like It
Jill Blackwood, The King and I
Jacques Coliman, Bright Now Beyond
Amy Downing, Silence! The Musical
Philip Goodwin, The Invention of Love
Leslie Hollingsworth, Chicago
Vincent J. Hooper, Stone Soup
Carla Nickerson, The Mountaintop
Jason Phelps, Feast of My Heart
Marc Pouhé, Cyrano de Bergerac/The Mountaintop/The Taming of the Shrew
Matt Radford, We Play Chekhov/Deus Ex Machina
Gricelda Silva, Changelings/Simple Sundries/Cenicienta
Steve Vinovich, All the Way
Jaston Williams, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike/Maid Marian in a Stolen Car

Acting in a Supporting Role
Melvin Abston, All the Way
Michelle Alexander, All the Way
Christina Baldwin, Refugia
Florinda Bryant, “Am I White?”
Steven Epp, Refugia
Joseph Garlock, Romeo and Juliet
Babs George, Jacob’s Ladder
Joey Hood, The Christians
Jessica Hughes, The Christians
André Martin, The Invention of Love
Erik Mathew, The Invention of Love
Robert Matney, Thr3e Zisters
William Earl Ray, All the Way
Jose Villarreal, Silence! The Musical
Johanna Whitmore, Jacob’s Ladder

Ensemble Performance
Cock, Theatre en Bloc
Everything Is Established, Physical Plant Theatre
Love and Information, Mary Moody Northen Theatre
This is Our Youth, Punchkin Repertory
Thr3e Zisters, Salvage Vanguard Theater
A Year With Frog and Toad, Zach Theatre

Music Direction
Jeanette Cannata-Grahmann, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Emily Goldman, Kiss Me, Kate
Lyn Koenning, Chicago (Summer Stock Austin)
Michael McKelvey, Silence! The Musical
Allen Robertson, Stone Soup/The Who’s Tommy/The King and I/A Year With Frog and Toad
John VanderGheynst, Chicago (Half & Half)

Cassie Abate, Kiss Me, Kate
Brazie Mata Adamez, Chicago (Half & Half)
Robin Lewis, The Who’s Tommy
Jennifer Young Mahlstead, A Year With Frog and Toad
Judy Thompson-Price, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Greg Zane, The King and I

David Mark Cohen New Play Award
Am I White?, Adrienne Dawes
Cenicienta, Rupert Reyes and Caroline Reck
Everything Is Established, Hannah Kenah
Refugia, Steven Epp
Stone Soup, Allen Robertson & Damon Brown
Teen Girl FANtasies, Kimberly Belflower & Megan Tabaque
The Theory of Substitution, C. Denby Swanson


Installation view, Do Ho Suh, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2014.  Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.
Installation view, Do Ho Suh, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2014. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

Museum Exhibition
James Drake: Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash), Blanton Museum of Art
Do Ho Suh, The Contemporary Austin
Margo Sawyer: Reflect, Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
Wildly Strange: The Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Blanton Museum of Art/Harry Ransom Center
The Making of ‘Gone With the Wind,’ Ransom Center

Solo Gallery Exhibition
40Hz: Barna Kantor, Big Medium
Blanket of Fog: Hollis Hammonds, Women & Their Work
Contamination | Pollination: Elizabeth McDonald, Pump Project
David Culpepper: Wake Me When It’s Quitting Time, Co-Lab
Sarah Frantz: Between Borderlands, Women & Their Work
Susan Collis: I would like to invite the viewer, Lora Reynolds Gallery
Susi Brister: Fables, Women & Their Work

Group Gallery Exhibition
The Contemporary Print, Kevin McNamee-Tweed and Kathryn Polk, curators, Print Austin
Tell Me What You Think of Me, Leslie Moody Castro, curator, Texas State University
Gently Fried, Los Outsiders

Work of Art: Independent or Public Project
AHOM, Museum of Human Achievement
Comfort Station, Katy Hernandez
Creek Show: Light Night, Waller Creek Conservancy (Lewis Legge Lewis, Design Workshop, Baldridge Architects, Jason Sowell, Thoughtbarn)
Leavings, Nancy Mims
Neighborhood Watch, Sean Ripple


"Season of Innocence," Ballet Austin II. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood.
“Season of Innocence,” Ballet Austin II. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood.

Dance Concert
Belle Redux/A Tale of Beauty & the Beast, Ballet Austin
Ignite: Three Works, Performa/Dance
Season of Innocence, Ballet Austin II
There, the Magnificent, Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company
The Trees of Govalle, Forklift Danceworks
Desplazados, A’lante Flamenco

Short Work
The Backup Dancer: Bits and Acts From the Night Train, Gold Show/Rose Show
On Truth and Love, Performa/Dance
Vicissitudes of the Heart, Chaddick Dance Theater
Hearing My Place, Acia Gray

Cheryl Chaddick, Vicissitudes of the Heart
Kathy Dunn Hamrick, There, the Magnificent/Briefs: An Episodic Adventure
Jennifer Hart, Ignite: Three Works/To Here
Sally Jacques, In Light
Nicholas Kepley, Season of Innocence
Karen Nelson and ensemble, The Tuning Project

Bailey Anglin, Season of Innocence
Jeremy Arnold, Soul/Sole Connections
Edward Carr, Belle Redux
Siobhan Cooke, Soul/Sole Connections
Mariclaire Gamble, Briefs: An Episodic Adventure
Brian Heil, Season of Innocence
Aara Krumpe, Agon
Ashley Lynn, Agon
Julie Nathanielsz, Yo Genesis
Michelle Thompson, Belle Redux
Nicole Whiteside, In Light
Jaime Lynn Witts, Firebird

Devon Adams and Nathan Brumbaugh, Vicissitudes of the Heart
Ashley Lynn Sherman and Christopher Swaim, Agon
Jamie Lynn and Ed Carr, To Here
Heloise Gold and Ellen Bartel, 1000 Forest Gorillas in Kansas
Anuradha Naimpally and Purna Bajekal, Jewels of the Tanjuvar Tradition
Allyson Dolan and Jack Anthony Dunlap II, Briefs

Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre/Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble/Super Creeps,
 The Bowie Project 2
Ballet Austin II, Season of Innocence
Ready|Set|Go!, In Habitants
Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company, There, the Magnificence/Briefs: An Episodic Adventure
Tapestry Dance Company, Soul/Sole Connections
A’lante Flamenco, Desplazados

Touring Show
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Texas Performing Arts
Martha Graham Dance Company, Texas Performing Arts
Otro Teatro, Luciana Achugar, Fusebox Festival
Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome, Michelle Ellsworth, Fusebox Festival
a quartet, Heather Kravas, Fusebox Festival
Seven, MET Dance, Austin Dance Festival
Slump, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Austin Dance Festival

Scenic Design

Aaron Bell, A Year With Frog and Toad/The Three Little Pigs
Ia Ensterä, We Play Chekhov/Detroit/Thr3e Zisters/The Tempest
Ann Marie Gordon, Changelings
Richard M. Isackes & Wendall Harrington, A Masked Ball
Lisa Laratta, The Suicide
Michael Raiford, Kiss Me, Kate
Leslie Turner, Jacob’s Ladder

Costume Design
Jennifer Davis, Changelings
Pam Fletcher Friday, Stone Soup
Alison Heryer, The King and I
Christina Montgomery, A Year With Frog and Toad
Mercedes O’Bannion, Refugia
Michael Raiford, Belle Redux/Kiss Me, Kate

Lighting Design

"Thr3e Zisters."
“Thr3e Zisters.”

Jason Amato, Maid Marian in a Stolen Car/The Invention of Love
Patrick Anthony, DNA/Changelings
Natalie George, The Tuning Project/Gold Show/Rose Show/Feast of My Heart/Thr3e Zisters/1000 Forest Gorillas in Kansas
Michelle Habeck, A Masked Ball/All the Way
Stephen Pruitt, Once There Were Six Seasons/The Trees of Govalle
Steven Shirey, We Play Chekhov/Jacob’s Ladder

Sound Design
Robert Fisher, Thr3e Zisters
K. Eliot Haynes, Once There Were Six Seasons/The Wars of Heaven, Part I
Billy Henry, Refugia
William Meadows, In Light/The Invention of Love
Joel Mercado-See, The Mountaintop
Buzz Moran, We Play Chekhov/The Trees of Govalle

Chamber Performance
Bach vs. Handel Smackdown, La Follia
The Lodger, Austin Classical Guitar
Miró Quartet with James Dunham & Norman Fischer, Butler School of Music
North Star, Austin Chamber Music Center
La Femme Boheme, LOLA Austin
Verklarte Nacht, Aelous Quartet

Choral Performance
Beethoven: Choral Fantasy, Chorus Austin
Haydn: The Creation, Texas Choral Consort
Muhly: How Little You Are, Conspirare/Austin Classical Guitar/Texas Performing Arts
Southwest Voices, Chorus Austin

Classical Performance
Beethoven: Ninth Symphony, Chorus Austin
A Masked Ball, Austin Opera
Indie Orchestra Night, Texas Choral Consort
Don Giovanni, Austin Opera
Austin Symphony Orchestra with Alison Balsom
Shostakovich “Symphony No. 7: UT Symphony Orchestra.

Dominick Chenes, A Masked Ball
Michael Chioldi, A Masked Ball
Sara Ann Mitchell, A Masked Ball
Nick Zammit, Bach Vs. Handel Smackdown
Gil Zilkha, “Oseh Shalom,” Southwest Voices
Julie Taylor, La Femme Boheme
Emily Breedlove, La Femme Boheme
Morgan Smith, Don Giovanni

Original Composition/Score
Belle Redux, Graham Reynolds
How Little You Are, Nico Muhly
The Lodger, Joseph V. Williams II
Season of Innocence, Steve Parker
Symmetrographia, Travis Weller
The Wars of Heaven, Part 1, Justin Sherburn

Graeme Francis, North Star
Carla McElhenney, Beethoven: Choral Fantasy
Michelle Schumann, North Star
Bion Tsang, The Lodger
Keith Womer, Bach vs. Handel Smackdown
Sandy Yamamoto, Franck: Sonata in A Major
Leanne Zacharias, River Measures

line upon line percussion
Miró Quartet
Texas Guitar Quartet
New Music Co-op


Dance review: Ballet Austin II’s “Season of Innocence”

 (This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Spera.)

The women wear long skirts with aprons and bonnets, covered head to toe. Their gesticulations fluctuate between jagged containment and distressed abandon. Their clothing betrays hardship: Sweat stains discolor the dirt-soiled, worn fabric.

Ballet Austin II's "Season of Innocence"
Ballet Austin II’s “Season of Innocence”

This is ballet master and choreographer Nick Kepley’s “Season of Innocence,” a retelling of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play “The Crucible.” Set on Ballet Austin II (Ballet Austin’s apprentice program and second company), Kepley’s 45-minute piece brims with accusation, judgment and agony — in all the best ways possible.

Even for those unfamiliar with “The Crucible” — that staple of high school English classes that centers on allegations of witchcraft in the late 17th century Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts — Kepley’s “Season of Innocence” leaves a powerful lasting impression.

His choreography for seven women (Salem villagers) and two men (a husband and a judge) is so different from the type of dance ballet companies typically do that it’s impossible to forget. Banished are ballet’s pointe shoes; the women dance barefoot. Every ounce of fluidity is gone; the Puritans’ angular bodies are filled with tension, hesitation and, ultimately, aggression.

Refreshingly devoid of repetition, the choreography allows for ample character development. Bailey Anglin, who played the accuser who incites the witch-hunt hysteria, was a sight to see. Her conniving facial expressions, stiff gait and twisted postures (which included literal finger pointing) pulled us into her mania. Rosie Grady Sayvetz appropriately aged herself about 30 years purely through movement for the role of the wife to Brian Heil’s husband; her hunched shoulders gave her a distinctly worn appearance.

What was clear was the dancers wholly embraced Kepley’s steely, barbed vision of 17th century Puritan life with attack to great effect.


The scenic design consisted solely of wooden chairs and benches that the dancers dragged around into different configurations. They often took a seat to gaze upon their peers, casting silent judgment.

In this regard, Kepley’s interpretation of a play from the 1950s about life in the 1690s proved surprisingly relevant to 2015: The themes of discrimination and exclusion in both Miller’s “The Crucible” and Kepley’s “Season of Innocence” are, indeed, timeless.

Then there was Austin-based composer Steve Parker’s music, commissioned specially for the ballet. The abstract soundtrack for the most part lacked any countable rhythm. It played with themes of the sacred (church bells) and the secular, and the guttural noise of inhalations and exhalations bookended the score.

I certainly hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Kepley’s choreography. He brings dynamism to Ballet Austin II both in terms of story concept and movement vocabulary that Austin should see more of.

Dance review: Ballet Austin’s “Director’s Choice”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christin Spera.)

Ballet Austin presented a mixed repertory program at the Long Center this weekend, collectively titled “Director’s Choice.”

Ballet Austin performed Jennifer Hart's "To Here." Photo by Tony Spielberg.
Ballet Austin performed Jennifer Hart’s “To Here.” Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Featuring works by guest choreographers Jennifer Hart and 2014-2016 Princess Grace Award Winner Jimmy Orrante, as well as a piece by Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills, the selections allowed the dancers to demonstrate a range of movement styles and emotions.

In Hart’s “To Here,” the stage was encapsulated by three screens. Projections of brightly colored wildflowers (think: spring in Texas) seamlessly gave way to a desolate desert landscape, then a rocky beach and, finally, bright white ice. A classical score by English composer Gavin Bryars featured the violin.

Susan Branch Towne’s costume designs reflected these changes: In the beginning, the women wore floral-watercolor chiffon dresses in vibrant pinks, oranges, greens, yellows, blues and purples; as the mood shifted, the 10 dancers re-emerged in white outfits that were ever-so-lightly splattered with gray. The projections behind them mimicked rain on a glass window before resolving into ice.

The path of the dance — from there, “to here”— recalled the cycle of life, from youth to old age. The last portion, where the stage was filled with whiteness as dancer Jamie Lynn Witts opened her palms to the sky, embraced the unknown.

The second piece of the evening, Mills’ “One / the body’s grace,” highlighted three couples, each discovering how to meld their individual lives to become one. In particular, Saturday evening’s Ashley Lynn Sherman and James Fuller embraced each other in grace, curiosity and intimacy; their emotive faces made the choreography all the more believable.

Sherman, poised atop her toes in pointe shoes, melted down onto Fuller as he lay on the floor. Then, standing up, she was embraced by him as he leaned backwards. The barely-there costuming by Christopher McCollum — tight tanks and bike shorts in a neutral color — revealed the minutiae of their musculature as they came together and separated; in the end, Fuller placed Sherman on the ground and walked away. She watched him leave her behind.

Stephen Mills' "One: The Body's Grace." Photo by Tony Spielberg.
Stephen Mills’ “One: The Body’s Grace.” Photo by Tony Spielberg.

The final piece of the evening, Orrante’s “Threads of Color,” was set to music by Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Five couples whirled about the stage, the women donning long, black mesh skirts and white scarves around their necks, the men in simple black pants and tops (the work of costume designer Alexey Korygin). The scarves floated lazily behind the women as they moved to the spicy music.

The “threads” may have been the scarves, but the “color” was definitely the movement, inspired by the deep energy of Piazzolla’s compositions. The solid backdrop changed colors to reflect the mood of different moments. Meanwhile, arms sliced through the air and feet scurried. The women tossed the scarves from around their necks and the men caught them, before tenderly replacing them.

“Director’s Choice” was an evening of contemporary ballet that, although technically plot-less, told its own abstract stories.

Ballet Austin announces 2015-16

Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills and composer Graham Reynolds will continue their longstanding artistic collaboration when the pair team again next season for “The Graham Reynolds Project.”

The showcase of short ballets will reprise two previous Mills/Reynolds collaborations — “Bounce” and “Though the Earth Gives Way” — and premiere a new one. “The Graham Reynolds Project” will be March 25-27, 2016 at the Long Center.

Ballet Austin's "Carbon53." Photo by Tony Spielberg.
Ballet Austin’s “Carbon53.” Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Mills made the announcement at a reception Tuesday night when he unveiled Ballet Austin’s 2015-16 season.

Mills will also premiere a new yet to be titled short ballet as part of the “Director’s Choice” program of mixed repertoire next February that includes Mills’ riveting, edgy “Carbon53” and “Stream” by innovative Swedish choreographer and filmmaker Pontus Lidberg.

Ballet Austin will remount its previous productions of “Hamlet” — this time with live accompaniment by Austin Symphony Orchestra playing the Philip Glass score — as well as “Cinderella” and “The Nutcracker.”

The Ballet Austin 2015-16 season:

“Hamlet,” Sept. 4-6

“The Nutcracker,” Dec. 5-23

“Director’s Choice,” Feb. 12-14

“The Graham Reynolds Project,” April 1-3

“Cinderella,” May 6-8

For more information see