Review: MoonFall by Red Nightfall Dance Theatre and Density512, Austin
by David Glen Robinson


So powerful, and then so tender. Not often are such disparate qualities drawn so beautifully into juxtaposition. Gentle love duets turn into angry ensemble conflicts. The shambling, morose movements of sun-scorched villagers segue into the powerful dances of the magician, seemingly in a heartbeat. That note is key, because while MoonFall, the newly premiered ballet by Red Nightfall  Dance Theatre and Density512 danced to an original score by Sam Lipman deals directly in duality and opposites, it comes deeply and profoundly from the heart.


MoonFall gives us Sun and Moon, the day and the night, and it honors the eternal cycle so created. The strong narrative launches from classical mythology, specifically the love story between Selene, the Moon, and a mortal shepherd, Endymion, here renamed Lina.[1] That’s about all MoonFall owes to the classical story. It goes its own way, including switching the genders of the principals. The ballet does not switch the gender of Sun, although the name Apollo is not used in the story. Ty Graynor is well up to the challenge of playing Sun, who takes a slight from the Moon, danced by Navaji David Nava. Perhaps a touch of jealousy? Sun reigns supreme, as we all know (did you see the eclipse?), and when Sun is slighted, everyone suffers. A scorching drought strikes the land. The mortals in the tiny human village where we all live search ineffectually for some respite, some water, some forgiveness from the Sun. Magicians, dancers, and sacrifice ensue. Will anything work? Through it all, the delicately beautiful love story between Moon and mortal plays out, most notably in the duet between Navaji David Nava and Tikiri Shapiro at the beginning of Act III.


(via Facebook - Laura Galt)


Dorothy O’Shea Overbey, artistic director, choreographer, and dancer heads the Red Nightfall Dance Theatre team. She choreographed all the dances. Credit for the story and music goes to internationally recognized composer Sam Lipman, also credited as a co-artistic director. An important collaborator with the music was Density512, an Austin musical performance incubator headed by Jacob Schnitzer. Schnitzer also directed the large musical ensemble live in every performance. With the complexities of MoonFall, a technical director and producer were necessary. Braden Baumbach and Kenzie Slottow, respectively, performed these duties. Yulia Lanina (not credited in the program) did art and projection design. The multitalented Navaji David Nava designed the set, and the similarly diversely talented Dorothy O’Shea Overbey and Tikiri Shapiro designed the costumes. And those costumes were memorable, especially the gray and argent Moon costume, layered and laden with lunar shapes and symbols, yet flexible and unconfining for the dancer. Sarah Annie Navarette took publicity and production photographs.


MoonFall stands as a new ballet topically and with a few new conventions, but it is firmly rooted in the classical ballet tradition. With all its multimedia and multimodal branches, the ballet takes place in the front rank of new dance work on the strength of its highly talented and trained cast. Ty Graynor as Sun is still relatively new to Austin but is receiving strong notices for his self-produced shows and work with Red Nightfall and Ventana Ballet. He has an esthetic of great power under very fine-tuned control. His duets with males and females show a delightful delicacy of touch while doing the work of lifts and energetic turns, always very smoothly. But it is his power that allows him to succeed in his role as Sun. Navaji David Nava plays Moon and foil to the Sun. He matches Sun lift for lift and turn for turn. Nava, especially, has the quicksilver emotionality characteristic of great actors; one can read the entire narrative and the shifts in mood of the music simply by watching his face. He is a natural. Graynor and Nava, just entering their primes, are well matched, and we hope to see them together often.


Red Nightfall Dance Theatre is loaded with principal dancers. Rachel Cox Culver as Torveldt, Tikiri Shapiro as Lina, and Kanami Nakabayashi as the magician put forward flawless performances. And as always, their skill sets they possess made it look easy, including Nakabayashi’s series of barrel rolls in an arc halfway around the stage. That amazing feat drew instant applause. Ensemble dancers termed Moonfall Citizens and Muses were no less skilled; each seemed ready to break into principal roles, notably Jessica Siclari and the hugely talented Elaine Fields. Rounding out the cast are Cellise Brown, Aidan DeWitt, Caroline Jones, Lillie Amdahl, and Josh Martinez. All will see their names in lights someday.


MoonFall personifies Sun and Moon and places them in structural opposition with the dualities of day and night and many other symbolic alliances. It is a tall order to tell even a highly abstracted story with such an elemental artistic paradigm, even with an assist from classical myth. But MoonFall accomplishes its task brilliantly, proving its potential to enter the canon. Ballets tell their stories without lyrical texts, employing movement, body language, and sometimes pantomime. Music has a great responsibility in telling a good story as well, with costumes, sets, light, and color following along. Many producers treat the narrative as merely a framework for the dance, and many ballet mavens attend solely to critique the technique of the dancers. Lightness and triviality are no sins of MoonFall, born into our darkening world. It gives us strong themes of love forming and breaking apart, sharing, and yet more warnings about climate change and its effects on our human village. O’Shea Overbey, Lipman, and their circle have seated their artistic work in the now, with great commitment and with eyes wide open. MoonFall communicates its messages clearly. As Lipman writes in his artist’s notes:


The story employs, a simple four-way love story, drawing on timeless archetypal characters, but comports an all-too-familiar threat of climate catastrophe. The plot and characters unfolded in lockstep with the music, which itself sprang from the canon of traditional ballet music.


MoonFall creators have a scrupulous devotion to ballet, within which they create and innovate with a sense of liberation. MoonFall in its innovations and performance execution compares favorably with the better-funded Ballet Austin production of POE: A Tale of Madness, and Ballet Austin II’s Maria and the Mouse Deer. All these ballets may have a proud place on the stage of world performing arts. Austin is so lucky.


MoonFall will be gone but not forgotten by the time you read this. Its parents, Red Nightfall Dance Theatre and Density 512 be followed on all social media and on their websites (click on them in this sentence) as they prepare for their next high-quality ballet. Get ready; anticipation is rising.


[1] Mythology, by Edith Hamilton. 1969 (1942). Back Bay Books. Little, Brown, and Co. New York. Pp. 150-151.

by Red Nightfall Dance Theatre and Density512
Red Nightfall Dance Theatre

May 09 - May 18, 2024
dada lab
2008 Alexander Ave
Austin, TX, 78722

May 9 - 18, 2024

dada Lab, Austin