The Andrew Mellon Foundation has graced Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas with a $500,000 grant to back “The Power of Protest: Arts and Civil Disobedience,” a proposed series of lectures, performances and other public events for a three-year period ending in 2021.
This brings the foundation’s gifts to the UT group to $1.35 million since 2011.
Performing and visual arts will be encouraged on the subjects of “world-wide protests for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental protection, the guarantee of racial equality, and the current national controversy regarding the continued display or removal of monuments honoring Confederate generals across the U.S,” according to a release from UT.
“(It) allows us to explore how work in the performing and visual arts has the ability to become, in and of itself, an act of civil disobedience with the capacity to drive social and political change,” says Kathy Panoff, director of Texas Performing Arts and associate dean of the College of Fine Arts. “The proposed programming is informed by the inherent power of the arts to provide a safe space to explore the most contentious social issues of our time.”
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 …
We lied. This post reports on no firings. You can relax.
Yet “hires, fires, gifts and honors” sounds like a good catch-all headline. We might use it again.
Zilker Theatre Productions makes two key hires
The group that has staged the Zilker Summer Musical for 60 years has taken on J. Robert “Jimmy” Moore asartistic director. Moore, remembered recently for “Buyer and Cellar” at Zach Theatre, will work alongside Executive Director KateHix, already in place. Also, one of those beloved behind-the-scenes heroes, Shannon Richey, has been drafted as director of production. Moore and Richey are trusted veterans who will undoubtedly bolster this free and singularly Austin tradition. No word on next summer’s selection.
Austin Opera‘s board of trustees has designated Jeff Kodosky, founder of National Instruments and inveterate arts lovers, as its next chairman. He takes over the position from Elisabeth Waltz, who has served as chairwoman 2016. Kodosky has been with the board and the company through thick and thin since 1996. I’m sure this quiet, smiling man could tell some tales about the group that almost went away at least twice, but also has triumphed repeatedly. Next up is “Carmen’ in November.
Huston-Tillotson is now an all-Steinway school
Following a gift of $800,000, Huston-Tillotson University will become the only institution of higher learning in Central Texas, the fourth historically black college or university in the country, and the 196th college or university to join the All-Steinway School club. University officials will unveil the Steinway pianos during their Charter Day Convocation 10 a.m. Oct. 27, 2017 in the King-Seabrook Chapel on the campus at 900 Chicon Street. In addition, Steinway artist Marcus Roberts and the Marcus Roberts Trio will headline a special concert.
Ransom Center selects new curator of art
Austinites generally think of the Ransom Center as a literary treasure trove with out-of this-world strengths in modern literature, movies, performing arts and photography. And, oh yes, the Watergate papers. Yet is also houses, preserves and exhibits a lot of excellent visual art, too. Over the summer, Tracy Bonfitto was named curator of art. She comes with sterling credentials from Getty Research Institute, the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She’s also a University of Texas grad.
I’m sure she will meld partnerships with the other distinguished and closely related cultural spots in that area of Austin, including the Blanton Museum of Art, LBJ Presidential Library, Briscoe Center for American History and Bullock Texas State History Museum as well as UT’s highly regarded Landmarks public arts program and its Visual Arts Center. Maybe the new Ellsworth Kelly house will help point the way visually and viscerally for more of a interrelated cultural campus.
The 2017 Longhorns football team seems to be the real deal. Its three losses were close and two of those were against highly ranked teams. The next home game is Oct. 21 against Oklahoma State University. At times at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, all eyes will be on the jumbotron, which will run three Roy Spence-inspired promos for three top cultural attractions on the University of Texas campus.
Using UT’s patented “What Starts Here Changes the World” slogan, the short videos tout the wonders of the Blanton Museum of Art,Harry Ransom Center, and LBJ Presidential Library.
“UT is renowned for its academics, athletics and vibrant pace of life,” Spence, cofounder of GSD&M creative agency, says. “We also wanted to shine a light on the rich culture that makes UT so extraordinary: its arts and their historical positive impact on society. Within walking distance to the football stadium, UT’s cultural and history-making treasures are a special part of the campus and its legacy. This was an opportunity to showcase those in a big way to both students on campus and nationally to our football fans.”
In addition to running on the jumbotron prompts, the Longhorn Network will air the ads. I hope the creators in coming years expand the program to include the Briscoe Center for American History, Texas Performing Arts, Benson Latin American Collection and other UT easily accessible to the general public.