The Austin Dance Fest at Café Dance in central Austin is an exciting development on the dance scene. Held yearly, the variety dance showcase is an outgrowth of the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company's former Dance and Book Affair fundraiser. The event features performances by working regional choreographers creating mainly in modern dance.
Dancers and groups from various dance studios, Texas State University, Austin Community College (ACC), The University of Texas at Austin, and other schools all took part in making an entire day of fresh, innovative dance. The 2014 Fest took place on April 12th.
The performances were highlighted by those of the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company itself. An ensemble of the company performed three excerpts from their upcoming full-length work, "There, the Magnificent," to be performed June 5th through 7th at Austin Ventures Studio at Ballet Austin. The second excerpt in particular was very strong, appearing to be an extension of the company’s recent "The Undoing of Nonet," but magnified in intensity.
Additional performances were cutting edge pieces of modern dance. Renee Davis performed one dance out of her full-length "Sister Moses," the story of Harriet Tubman. Her dance was set to jazz, comprising a fascinating out-of-time collaboration between the character and the music. At the same time, Ms Davis’ movements and facial gestures created chapters in the life story of an African American freedom warrior. Ms Davis performs "Sister Moses" at long intervals, so any excerpt from the piece she performs is not to be missed.
Yelena Konetchy and Lucy Wilson performed a sharp, well-coordinated modern duet. Roman Morgan choreographed a solo, performed by Mysti Jayce Pride. The piece was notable for its strongly enunciated emotionality.
Kaisie Brown brought a modern dance piece from Texas State University, and Armstrong Bergeron Dance Company represented the Texas A&M University. Both pieces were high concept technique performances and were worthy showcases of their respective institutions’ fine arts colleges.
Alyson Dolan choreographed a duet entitled “GRIT” and performed in it with Lisa del Rosario; but it was more of a quartet: two musicians (Drew Silverman and Alfredo Ramirez) provided live, improvisational accompaniment. The strong piece was full of innovation, at no time stronger than when the dancers interacted with the musicians, pulling them into the dance briefly at two different points in the dance. This truly exceptional and memorable work may prove to be a milestone in the careers of the dancers and musicians. This was a rare gem.
The Fest was also enlivened by notable comedy pieces. Dawn Davis Loring, newly returned from the east coast, presented a game show, “Danceopoly,” with full size, living playing pieces. Caroline Sutton-Clark created a piece from sequin-strangled, thrown-out costume pieces of a college dance line. From them, and eleven performers, Ms Sutton-Clark created a daffy send-up of all such kick-obsessed college dance teams and a dance piece that should live happily in infamy.
Barbara Jo Stetzelberger performed a solo piece on growing up with telephones and how life has changed now that there are “devices.” Roxanne Gage’s ACC Dance Performance Workshop class performed a relatively long group dance, jazz-inflected and 1920s-themed. While entertaining and full of humor, the student dancers showed discipline, especially in the skilled finishing of the gestures of their limbs; gestures ended with a toss or pointing, and hands were never left waving.
Ballet East and Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre collaborated on a strong modern ensemble dance toward the end of the show. The dance was highlighted by showy costumes, but the greater enjoyment, a treat, was seeing the work of Rodolfo Mendez, Melissa Villarreal, and Andrea Ariel together on the same stage. The performers accomplished the demanding work ably.
Other works falling into the “too-numerous-to-mention-here” category nevertheless belonged to the class of those mentioned and contributed to an overall strong program. Austin Dance Fest is a once-a-year series and well worth following. It is even more enjoyable for having its home base in the cozy, shoes-off Café Dance studio. Some other dance series in the city have closed down, and because of this the 2015 edition of Austin Dance Fest may prove to be an even more vital outlet for the striving, growing dance talent in Austin.