Austin recently saw the inauguration of a new dance festival, much-needed to fill a void left by several collective dance show series which fell by the way for various reasons. The losses include the Grandaddy of them all “10 Minutes Max,” sponsored by Dance Umbrella, the short-lived but edgy “No Assurance” from Julia Dziubinski, and the “Big Range Austin Dance Festival” from Ellen Bartel.
The premier Austin Dance Festival, sponsored by Kathy Dunn Hamrick and her company, bodes fair to fill the dance gap left by all these former productions and offer continuing opportunities for performed dance well into a bright future. The festival crowded 23 works of dance into three shows in one dance-packed day. Yes, one day, but the planning for it took five months. The Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company put out a nationwide call for applications from companies and individual choreographers at all stages of their growth—new companies, old favorites, and all levels in between.
The results were diverse, yes, but in important ways the show had remarkable balance. Here we were given a sampler of modern dance and its location in our dynamic and troubled nation. Only a few highlights can be mentioned here, but every piece left its own mark on the Austin Ventures Studio stage and on the heart and face of the Austin dance scene.
Appropriately, the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company held the lead-off position of the 2 pm show. An ensemble of eight performed an excerpt from the company’s recent “Briefs: An Episodic Adventure.” Leah Tubbs performed her own athletic solo, “Shades” to a jazz soundtrack by Aaron Immanuel Wright. Tubbs is one of Austin’s most underrecognized choreographers, and her performance was an impressive showcase of her immense skills. Independent choreographer Lisa Nicks unleashed a group piece entitled “Themes and Beariations (excerpt from My Life as a Dancing Bear).” The piece, besides offering Nicks’ trademark dry humor, has exceptionally well designed and tasteful green-themed costumes. Nicks brings exceptional skills into a wry and knowing take on life. Her work is always refreshing. The quality of bringing literary themes and lyricism into dance was shared by Nicks with Dark Circles Dance Company, from Dallas, which had two pieces in the festival, “Critics of the Morning Song” and “Slump.” Dark Circles proved beyond cavil that Klezmer music shall drive everyone mad, especially while dating.
David Chao’s “Verse v2.0” was a piece with a continuously flowing quality. The movement had the look of dancers forming intricate visual designs, an effect assisted by costumes with lace material and patterns. The dance was also made more successful by an exceptional ensemble, composed of Amanda Butterfield, Amy Morrow, Lisa Del Rosario, and Rachel Meador. Kate Warren’s Circuitous Dance Company followed the Chao piece. The dance was a solo by the incomparable Cherami Steadman. Although choreographed, the piece had that improvisational quality of a performer seeming to respond to impulses in creative, and in Ms Steadman’s case, highly skilled ways. The last passage of movement saw the dancer moving up the upstage right diagonal, seeming to float like a leaf in gusty winds, pinwheeling, rolling, and spinning until finally descending to rest. Gifted dancers can take one places beyond one’s imagination.
Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth offered a large ensemble collaborating with composer and experimentalist William Meadows. Meadows worked live on stage with the dancers. The dancers tortured him, figuratively speaking, with Wii remotes, gesturing and feeding commands into his pickups. This was a seamless movement/music/sound improvisation, and pleasing as well as intellectually satisfying. Credit here goes also to choreographer Kerry Kreiman. Independent choreographer Alyson Dolan also merged music and movement, but with a different take on it. She placed on stage two amazing musicians, percussionist Drew Silverman and vocalist Alfredo Ramirez. Then she placed two equally gifted dancers on stage, herself and Lisa Del Rosario. They danced the music perfectly, their very hair flowing to every note. Ramirez’ rising vocal ending was the perfect touch. Dolan conceptualizes this piece, GUTS, as a prequel to last year’s GRIT, which won awards. The community would love to see the two pieces performed together.
METdance came from Houston and showed Austin what is required to perform on a world stage. Their ensemble performance of SEVEN, choreographed by Larry Keigwin, was slick perfection. At the same time, the dancers retained the human touch, transcending their perfected technique to gain a world of expressiveness.
Inspiration all around, the audiences left satisfied. Plans are to make the Austin Dance Festival an annual event sometime in the month of April. Watch for it.