Forklift Danceworks co-founder and artistic director Allison Orr — known for her creative productions that use everyday performers in unexpected spaces — is one of 45 artists and creators from across the country to be named 2018 fellows by the Chicago-based United States Artists. Orr is the only 2018 fellow from Texas; the honor comes with an unrestricted $50,000 grant.
Oh, sure, some lucky ballet dancers manage to extend their careers for decades. Others happily switch to congruent creative roles at a convenient age. But just when you think you’ve identified all the major players in Ballet Austin — which opens its holiday treat, “The Nutcracker,” on Dec. 8 — myriad new faces joins the familiar ones onstage.
Already this season, veteran ballet watchers have noted a spate of younger talent on the Long Center stage. Now you can catch all of them through Dec. 23 because, for “The Nutcracker,” it’s all feet on deck.
Often a major role will be played by multiple dancers over the course of a long run. Watch for the relative newcomers during the Christmas party scene in Act 1, or dancing through snowflake magic as part of the corps de ballet later in the same act, or playing featured roles during the divertissements — the always diverting specialty dances — in Act 2. And elsewhere.
Some of these dancers are newly minted members of the main company; others serve in Ballet Austin II, the group’s farm team, as it were.
Now, we are not talking about the darling tots who hide under Mother Ginger’s huge skirt or play with gifts while teasing each other during the party sequence. These are professional dancers who have more recently come into the spotlight. Let’s introduce a few …
A show within a show, “The Drowsy Chaperone” tests the limits of the musical genre. On one level, it is a celebration of the giddy often mindless musicals of the 1920s. On another, it is a sharp critique of the stereotypes and cultural shorthand of the day.
As such, it makes an ideal candidate for a college musical theater program like the one at the University of Texas that, despite some high points, did not work out and will suspend operations — while Texas State University ramps up its efforts — with this carefully chosen material, while continuing to probe the history of theater for all its shifting meanings.
We asked director Nick Mayo about the musical that plays Dec. 6-10 at the Payne Theatre. Getting into the 1920s spirit of the show, he sent us some telegraphic notes.
Warning: The plot is ridiculously complicated. You see, a musical theater fan called Man in Chair introduces a show within a show called “The Drowsy Chaperone” about a mixed-up wedding that includes gangsters, mistaken identities and exotic locales, all of which infiltrate the Man in Chair’s apartment …
En route between two glorious musicals — “A Chorus Line” at Texas State University and “Singin’ in the Rain” at Zach Theatre — on Saturday, my traveling companions paused to consider the American-Statesman arts coverage for just the past week. We were able to rattle off at least 10 significant stories by staff reporters and freelancers during the previous seven days, Sept. 22-28.
Later I thought, hey, 10 in seven ain’t bad. Why not share the bounty here? Dates are for original digital publication. This fat list doesn’t even include substantial descriptions of arts events that appeared on Page 2 of the Austin360 section, thanks to the extraordinary Ari Auber.
For our money, there’s never too much singing and dancing in a stage musical. So we rejoiced at the chance to interview dance maker Dominique Kelley (“Sophisticated Ladies,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and Austin newcomer Luke Hawkins, who plays Don Lockwood in Zach Theatre’s staging of “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“Tap dancing will always be with us. It’s a quintessential American dance form.
And Austin, with its nationally respected Tapestry Dance Company, is a tap hub of sorts.
Yet tap dancing doesn’t play a huge role in the contemporary Broadway theater. Especially given the numerous jukebox musicals derived from postwar pop or rock music, or equal number of hits based on animated movies, which might include a smattering of rhythm dancing, but nothing on the scale of, say, “Singin’ in the Rain,” which can be seen at Zach Theatre starting Sept. 27.
“There certainly are tap elements in current shows,” says Dominique Kelley, who made the dances for this “Singin’ in the Rain.” “A friend of mine always includes it. He doesn’t always use tap shoes, or it’s in the way back, but there’s always tap. Some say that tap is dying, but you can find people who can do it, like you can find krumping, flamenco or break dancing. I can find good people to do it, but do they fit the type? Can they actually sing and act, too? When you whittle it away, you don’t necessarily get the best tappers.”
Combing through Zach auditions held in Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Kelley and director Abe Reybold came up blank for a leading man who could do all these things as Don Lockwood in this stage show based on the revered 1952 Gene Kelly movie.
“Then someone said: Do you know Luke Hawkins?” Kelley remembers. “Just hire him.”
Hawkins, who grew up in his mother’s dance studio outside Sacramento, Calif., has been a go-to guy for a type of tap dancing that requires more than mere rhythm.
“In my 20s, my agent sent me out for a lot of tap shows,” he says with a heart-melting smile. “But it was for the ensemble. I am a soloist tap dancer. Because I’ve devoted so much time and practice to falling in love with tapping, where it’s been and where it’s heading, being an ensemble member was too easy in shows I didn’t love. I didn’t feel challenged.”
Suffice it to day that “Singin’ in the Rain,” which costars Sasha Hutchings as Kathy Seldon, presents a challenge even for Hawkins.
“This pretty much utilizes everything,” he says. “Singing, acting, ballet-ish dance, tap dance. Because of Dom, I’m allowed to improvise, too, and that’s so rare. Most other choreographers don’t allow it.”
We visited a run-through rehearsal and interview director/choreographer Cassie Abate to prep you for the show. Here’s a peek:
“What would you encounter if you dropped by a run-through rehearsal of “A Chorus Line” 2 1/2 weeks before it opened at Texas State University?
Actually, something very close to a fully consummated version of the hit 1975 show about performers auditioning to appear on a Broadway chorus line, meanwhile revealing their personal histories.
White light illuminates a few pieces of scenery. Young performers line up in studio togs. The late Marvin Hamlisch’s genius score, though rehearsed this night without orchestra or microphones, shines through.
Because these performers are part of the San Marcos school’s nationally ranked musical theater program, not only is the singing and dancing already top-notch, the original anecdotes that grew out of a singular play development process — it somewhat resembled group therapy for working chorus members — are deeply felt and communicated.”
Paul Michael Bloodgood is a prince. He’s a family man. He’s a superb dancer.
And he’s dancing his last Romeo with Ballet Austin on Sept. 15 and Sept 17. This “Romeo and Juliet” is propelled by the kinetic music of Sergei Prokofiev played by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, of course with choreography by Stephen Mills.
Despite all the excellent talent onstage, for two of the three nights, all eyes will be on Bloodgood, who has long been a standout for the company.
The organized arts and humanities generally don’t save lives directly during emergency situations. Yet they save our culture — our shared memory — over the long run. Here are some ways the state and national communities are responding to Harvey and where the help will be most needed.
The National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Texas Commission on the Arts to assess the situation. NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu: “As the current situation stabilizes, the NEA is prepared to direct additional funds to these state arts agencies for re-granting to affected organizations, as we have done in the past.”
The Texas Library Association and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working to coordinate a response for the affected library community.
While some smaller arts facilities have been devastated on the coast (see image from Rockport), the massive Houston Theatre District has sustained enormous damage, as it has in previous storms (much of it was built underground not far from Buffalo Bayou).
At the Alley Theatre, the small Neuhaus Theatre and its lobby were flooded. The same spaces were severely beat up during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.
The Wortham Theatre Center, where Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet perform, took water on the Brown Theatre stage and out front of the house. The basement with its costume and prop storage, however, was totally flooded.
On the other hand, the Hobby Center and Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, came off relatively unscathed, although the parking garages were inundated.
Kele Roberson, who studied at Austin’s Dance Institute and the Austin School for the Performing and Visual Arts, deferred a $25,000 scholarship to the Juilliard School in order to join the Royal Ballet School in London. This program funnels some dancers into one of the top ballet companies in the world and is quite an opportunity for Roberson, who gave an interview on the subject to Jennifer Stahl for Dance Magazine.
“I only had to watch a deep plié before writing down a 10 out of 10 on his score sheet and scribbling a giant star next to his name,” Stahl says of Roberson’s audition for the New York City Dance Alliance‘s college scholarship program. “Before he even had a chance to show off his incredible lines, I was mesmerized by his nuanced grace in even the simplest of movements.”
Roberson, who started studying ballet at age 11 and completed a summer program with the Royal Ballet, still might attend Juilliard later.
“As of right now, that’s the plan. Juilliard’s always been a dream,” he told Stahl “I graduated a year ahead (I’m still 17) so I decided to take this year at The Royal to perfect what I can in terms of technique, and hope to audition for Juilliard next year…”
News of his coup spread quickly on social media.
“What a phenomenal artist already!” says dancer Andrea Williams. “I’m going to miss seeing him dance everyday but I’m so glad he’s going to the Royal Ballet!”
Forklift Danceworks, which recently finished the first round of its “My Park, My Pool, My City” performances at Bartholomew Pool, is hosting a fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 22, at Gather, 5540 N. Lamar Blvd., that is inspired by the famed NYC club, Studio 54. (Note, this event was postponed in August due to Harvey but now has a new date — Sept. 22.)
Studio 54klift dance party takes place from 8 p.m. to midnight, and it starts with a VIP hour with music by DJ Triple C, appetizers and signature cocktails by Steven Robbins of Half Step.
At 9 p.m., the general admission party starts with MC Tigre Liu, music by DJ Mahaelani, a silent auction and raffle and an open bar with late night snacks. VIP tickets cost $100, and general admission costs $75, and all the money goes to supporting Forklift’s programs, which are free and open to the public. You can buy tickets and find out more here.
Only two Austin theatrical performances this year have sent me into the streets singing, nay, shouting the praises of a performer. Both are relative newcomers to the scene, but if there’s any justice, they won’t ever become strangers.
The first was Chanel‘s profoundly inspired take on Billie Holiday in Zach Theatre‘s “Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill.” How many times I’ve turned over in my memory her point-on patter, unvarnished vulnerability, ravishing voice and total embrace of the audience.
The second was Trinity Adams as Annie Oakley in Summer Stuck Austin‘s “Annie Get Your Gun,” currently running at the Long Center. Just 17, Adams is an award-winning actor who recently graduated from Dripping Springs High School.
Hey, Dripping, do you know what ya got in this gal?
The minute Adams bounded onto the stage at the Rollins Studio Theatre, the room just expanded exponentially to take in her radiance. Not that everything she did in the Irving Berlin classic was big and grand, no, she electrified the audience with slightest grin or aside.
As my theater companion, Suzie Harriman, pointed out, she’s like Broadway star Sutton Foster. No matter where she is in director Scott Thompson‘s stage-filling production — you won’t believe how well these kids dance! — your eyes are drawn to Adams.
She was capably complemented by Max Corney and a host of other troupers. Almost all of them also appear in “Spamalot,” a wonderfully cute Summer Stock musical directed by Ginger Morris. In that show, I was particularly taken with Lydia Kam, Ben Roberts, Michael Morran, Coy Branscum and Matthew Kennedy.
But why kid? All the the Summer Stock players are talented. Adams, however, at this precious theatrical moment, shines like the brightest stars in the heavens.