Review #1 of 2: Austin Dance Festival 2022
by David Glen Robinson
Austin Dance Festival 2022
Produced by Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company at The Long Center's Rollins Studio Theatre
July 14 – 17, 2022
The Austin Dance Festival 2022 has taken place at the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center. The event was very much an expanded version over what came before, with performance showcases and film taking place over four days. The 2022 edition may have been the largest ever, with three professional showcases of invited companies and artists responding to a nationwide call, one youth showcase, two separate editions of the highly regarded Dance on Film series, four masterclasses, and a college fair. And don’t forget the artist interviews at the end of the adult showcases. This edition unreels more than a year after the one-day, all-in-one, outdoor 2021 iteration at Pioneer Farm in north Austin, o this year’s version was touted rightly as a return to the formal (indoor) stage after a multi-year hiatus due mostly to Covid.
The giant, diverse event grows exponentially each year and rapidly escapes complete description in any single medium. Recognition of this leads to the trite phrase, “You have to see it to believe it.” Applied to Austin Dance Festival, that phrase is literally true. This reviewer’s attendance was limited due to Covid concerns, and his observations are confined to the Friday night professional showcase and the Thursday night showing of Dance on Film. The writing here is divided into two parts, the first on the Friday night live performances, and the second on the Thursday night films. Other showcases with many dances, so deserving of recognition, especially those of the Youth Showcase (stars of the future), were no less intriguing and significant because of their lack of mention here.
Professional Showcase, Friday, July 15, 2022
“Copper” by solo artist Ely Motley began with large sections of the 10 CC song “I’m Not in Love”, the beloved atmospheric love song from the 1970s. The outgoing and affable Motley began on stage in slow movements, bundled like a homeless person against the cold. This opening offered a great contrast between the music and the image and movement. Several more sections offered additional contrasts, all punctuated with the removal of garments and a signature bow held for several seconds with eye contact with the audience. The dance was a showcase of, seemingly, Motley’s entire movement repertoire in a relatively long total piece. His athletic sports experience and college study of dance forms provided him a significant repertoire. Hip-hop and break dancing were amply displayed especially when he finally stripped down to a thong and revealed his musculature. Then he performed something long awaited in performances of well-defined muscular dancers but rarely seen: he started flexing all the muscle groups of his body, individually, beginning with one arm isolated then proceeding through his shoulders, his trunk, through his legs, along the opposite arm, his neck, interestingly his facial muscles around his eye (many might have missed that), and his head under his three-foot dreadlocks. This was a deep sharing in co-creation with the audience, very intentional, as he revealed in a brief interview with this reviewer after the show. The final sections applied hip-hop and break dancing to the music of Beethoven through a last bethonged section. Motley slowed his movements to coordinate with the progressions of the music, ending with abstracted, almost rebuslike, emoticon-ish, hand movements high in the air, imaginatively fingering a keyed instrument—“air clavichord.” This final contrast was delicious.
“Bite-Sized,” choreographed by Tikiri Shapiro, was a group piece from Sea Legs Dance. In great contrast to Motley’s “Copper” five slender women danced in studio garb, with some color coordination. They proceeded through many combinations and unison work. Artist interviews afterward revealed that the many sections of the dance were evocations of food items. Hence the title and shaped based movement sections. Especially hunger-inducing was a shape in a circle with occasional arms spiking upward—candle flames shining around the edges of a birthday cake. Rachel Cox Culver, Siri Cyan, Megan Dollar, Kanami Nakabayashi, and Chelsea Pribble were the dancers.
“Pillow Talk,” choreographed and performed by Natasha Small and Liliana Zapatero was similarly a concept piece, but as revealed in the interviews, the concept was that of every teenager’s first crush. The choreographers abstracted movement from survey interviews with friends. They performed their piece in loose, flowing garments in light, grayish colors as in some dreamy neverland of memory and the first awakenings of love. The piece began with the two piled together downstage center, Natasha Small finger-writing a love note with a big sketch heart as though writing on sand. Zapatero pulled her away to describe in movement the reported findings of the survey interviews. The movements and shapes highlighted Zapatero’s interview observation that many interviewees retained striking memories of facial expressions of that tender teenage phase. Zapatero’s evocations of facial expressions were apt, clear, sometimes humorous, and varied. The movement phrases relied heavily on contact work to express romantic contact, separation, and the emotional storms that go with them. Dry humor filled the interstices, as when one dancer was pulled over the other and broadly exposed green sequined underpants. Humor and clever application of technique freed the piece from any hint of schmaltz. The final scene was the bookend, the dancers again piled together center stage, Small writing a love note in the sand. Zapatero reached over with one hand and swept the writing away.
“Odd Duck Lake” (excerpt) was an anthology piece performed by Shaun Keylock of Portland, working with Gregg Bielemeier, a late-career choreographer from the Pacific Northwest. Keylock’s company specializes in archiving older dances for performance, and Bielemeier’s “Odd Duck Lake” isone such archi ved work. Keylock did not mention the year of the piece’s premiere in comments afterward. The first impression of the dance was the costume, a loose-fitting top in earth colors, and at first glance a knee-length kilt of tongue-like strips of fabric. Upon second glance, one realized the fabrics were comprised of a wide selection of neckties in a tasteful combination of prints and earth tones. Keylock confirmed that Bielemeier was a collage artist who worked in fabric, and the necktie kilt was one of his pieces. The dance was a longish series of stepped-out floor patterns with a few transitional leaps between sections. There was no floor work in the sense of the dancer’s body remaining entirely in contact with the floor. Keylock stood, walked, and leaped throughout. A constant stream of arm and hand gestures, not coordinated with the floor patterns, seemed to signal a more didactic story or narrative. Keylock said later he did not know any of the meanings intended by Bielemeier. Interestingly, “Odd Duck Lake” is a dance artifact, possibly from the 1930s, performed live and preserved for the future. Kudos to Shaun Keylock.
“And Again” was a fascinating piece choreographed by Jessica Boone of Salt Lake City. Before moving to Utah, Boone was Austin with the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company, so The Austin Dance Festival was a homecoming of sorts. The dance was a duet that began with a simple unison phrase that moved back and forth in triplets and gave the two performers (male and female) a wavelike up-and-down upper body motion. The music by Greg Haines started with a simple set of drumbeats, slightly faster than a heartbeat. The dancers gazed downstage fixedly, though not focusing on the audience. The effect was altogether hypnotic, and soon the audience was riding that wave with the performers. The dancers gradually broke into other patterns, but the driving beat stayed and the audience stayed on the wave. Then the dancers wickedly broke the patterns, leaning off-balance on each other, or forming a shape and shoving the other away. The effect was hilarious, but it’s hard to laugh when in Level IV hypnotic thrall. The dancers continued to stare stonily while bizarrely in unison. Every splash on the wave was a surprise, and the surprises strung together to form a very satisfying piece. The audience came down safely. “And Again” demonstrates the maturation of Boone’s choreography. Performers Virginia Broyles and Austin Hardy, are virtuoso dancers, not at all evil.
“The Magnificent Conjuring of You and Me,” choreographed by Kathy Dunn Hamrick (KDH) and the KDH Dancers, finished the show with an approximately forty-five-minute piece first performed on Memorial Day weekend at Café Dance. Said by some to be KDH’s best work over the last ten years, it remains a commanding piece of ensemble dance in contemporary modes, and perhaps raises the bar for other established companies. The five near-perfect dancers are Anna Bauer, Jairus Carr, Cara Cook, Alyson Dolan, and Carissa Topham. The piece is really an abstract ode to joy for liberation from the pandemic shutdown, and that is why audiences so readily identify with it. This is not to say that everyone in the audience could perform the moves of the performers. The combinations from solos through the quintet-of-the-whole came in rapid-fire succession for forty-five minutes. The performers and combinations swept back and forth stage left to stage right and back several times. The other dance companies seemed not to have recognized or chosen this spatial concept or its dynamics. Choices vary. The slow-build soundtrack by Michael Wall was a guide for performers and audience, taking everyone up and forward. Then sound and movement broke like the surf on the audience’s consciousness. The intriguing, somewhat mysterious end came with the performers folding up their gold faux-brocade jackets and placing them behind their heads like pillows, lying on their backs at the end of this joyous day and gazing up at the cloud-writing of their liberated futures. The standing audience’s ovation seemed to affirm that image and interpretation.
Part II follows shortly, so stayed tuned.
May 29, 2021
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr
Austin, TX, 78754
Annual festival held May 29, 2021 at Pioneer Farms, Austin.