Review: Smoke, A Dance in Several Parts, by Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company
by David Glen Robinson


Frenzy. Dreams. Desire, confidence, touch, smoke, departure. Stillness…


(from KDHDC)

These are some of the images and impressions of the mosaic abstract Smoke, A Dance in Several Parts, a new contemporary dance performance from the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company. The dance is a composite of choreographed and improvisational sections created by the five highly skilled dancers of the company. Acting Artistic Director Alyson Dolan directed the ensemble. Their own choreography had to include an extended moment of stillness. All the rest could be expressed in contemporary dance technique.


Alyson Dolan, Anna Bauer, Jairus Carr, Cara Cook, and Carissa Topham FIsher were the masterful dancers so instructed.


Artistic Advisor Kathy Dunn Hamrick made a curtain speech, as she has done for years, on the things she sees and looks for in a dance. She cited soaring, flying, stillness, touching, not touching, micromovements, and more. The list indeed guides the audience but doesn't impose itself; spectators branch into their own lists of impressions. This freedom stems from the phrasing and sequences created by the dancers, and that's where the visual and movement surprises lay.


The ensemble's vast energy left a lasting sensory impression. The performance was in the round, and the audience sat one row deep at floor level on all four sides of the Café Dance studio. Movement began slowly, but when it encompassed the full ensemble in bursts and shifts in pacing, running and lifts, it pushed the audience well back into their seats. All visuals were close-ups.


(via KDHDC)


For each section a lead participating choreographer/dancer chose the music. Percussion rhythms were accessible to the dance, of course, but they were foregrounded by melodic keyboards, strings, and environmental sound grabs, as in “Strung with Everything” by Animal Collective. The music used for the various sections was diverse and contributed to the sense of the dance as abstraction. These were large, moving abstract paintings with many imagistic mosaic pieces but without narrative threads. They didn't need them.


(via KDHD )There were no breaks between the sections in the fifty-minute show. Early in the dance, floorwork in many shapes and movements took over. In a synesthetic bump, the dancers seemed to have become lilypads on a pond, floating gently or completely still. In an extended visual tableau, two pairs of dancers lay motionless, one full-length atop the other. Surprisingly, the effect was comic rather than suggestive or erotic. The exact tableau was staged recently in Alexa Capareda’s MiserlieuLord help us, perhaps it's a trend.


The excellent, well-coordinated costumes were interactive, for they featured additional layers and shoulder panels added with changes in the dance. These appeared gradually after a spectacular solo by Anna Bauer that began with the dancer standing absolutely still. Bauer combined movements of arms and legs with micromovements initiated from several points within her body. This standing dance sustained those movements at length, offering us quite a large repertoire. Micro- and macro-movements originated from various points of the spine as well as from shoulder blades, collarbones, hips, eyelids, ears, and elsewhere. Bauer later told this reviewer that the first part of the solo was choreographed (by whom, she did not say), but she subsequently had full rein to improvise movements. Her resulting performance was impressive and highly skilled.


Jairus Carr provided peaks of energy in focal dances in various sections. Among other effects, he created great contrasts when he dropped his furious energy and entered stillnesses. Each time, the drama of that transformation kept audience attention firmly on him.


(via KDHDC)


Alyson Dolan’s characteristic approach—her sigil, so to speak—is mastery and risk. Toward the end of the performance she moved backward at high speed into a duet with Carr. She couldn't see where she was going as she reached to touch the hand Carr extended behind him. Other dancers flashed by; only she could touch him. Her intense concentration demonstrated focus and purpose. This reviewer saw a successful connection the evening he attended and left wondering about the game’s outcome in the other performances.


Cara Cook danced powerfully in all the sections, seemingly unchallenged by any. Of all the dancers, she has the closest match to Carr’s energy and quick-firing bursts of movement. The pair are close to the same height and hair color. Carissa Topham Fisher also kept the other dancers on pace. She helped drive the ensemble work through its many shapes. These included the titular smoke. Dancers evoked a forest fire by waving arms or wafting vertically like candle flames standing in a line.


These are images of dance as abstract mosaic sans narrative. The dancers created these palettes of imagination and released them to the audience as invitations  to unlock their own dreamlike imagery. Smoke was an artistic gift to everyone who attended. The company, modified in its processes by growth and change, promises all of us sitting in the chairs that it is dancing auspiciously into the future.


Follow the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company on social media and in its clever e-newsletters. Contemporary dance is rewarding for its own sake. 





Smoke - A Dance in Several Parts
by Kathy Dunn Hamrick
Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company

May 17 - May 19, 2024
Café Dance
3307 Hancock Drive
Austin, TX, 78731

May 17 - 19, 2024

Café Dance, Austin