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Big Range Austin Dance Festival

The Big Range Dance Festival shows why that art is worth everyone's attention

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., July 8, 2011

Arts Review

Big Range Austin Dance Festival

Salvage Vanguard Theater

June 30-July 3

Big Range Austin Dance Festival, the two-weekend indie dance blowout headed by choreographer/dancer Ellen Bartel, is a lot to cover in these few inches. It helps, but is nevertheless unfortunate, that I missed Program A, which included works by Bartel's Spank Dance Company, Randi Turkin, and Ariel Dance Theatre, among others. In this effort to cover the rest of the fest, I'm omitting much.

Program B was Dance Carousel, 40 one-minute works by 10 choreographers or choreographic teams. Previously presented during Frontera Fest, Dance Carousel found a more appropriate context as a part of Big Range, offering a bit of "lite" with its rotating service of amuse-bouches. This iteration of Dance Carousel included a good dose of the comic: episodes of insect life chronicled by the quirky Lisa Nicks; a synthesis of Star Wars and modern dance by Michelle Nance, Meg Brooker, Caroline Sutton Clark, and Kaysie Seitz Brown (who, full disclosure, is my sister-in-law). Also of note were trompe l'oeil videos by Katherine Hodges that considered differences between horizontal and vertical, an eerie series by Steve Ochoa in which he met his double, and meditative solos by David Chao, whom I hadn't heard of before but according to the program, earned a Bachelor of Arts in dance from UT in 1997. Go figure!

About one-third of the audience left after the Dance Carousel I attended, but it was their loss: Program C, an improvisational Butoh session, followed after a short break. For the past several years, Bartel has collaborated with musician/composer Adam Sultan and a small group of dancers to present Butoh performances in gallery settings. This backstory prompted Bartel's switch from the larger group, Western dance–based improv programs of previous festivals. For the June 30 performance, Sultan, Bartel, and the fascinating Mari Akita were alternatively encumbered and sheltered by yards and yards of swishy fabric in evening gowns and parachutes. Visually striking, the fabric was fertile with paradox and codependency: what you cover yourself with also exposes you; what decorates and comforts can also make you disappear; the opulence of copious folds versus the urge to control them. The starkness and meditation of Butoh, a performance style that emerged in Japan in the mid-20th century, make it marvelous, I think, for getting out of ourselves, and the Sultan-Bartel-Akita performance encouraged the audience to go in deep. For the performers, it seemed body-in-universe and universe-in-body at the same time.

The festival's final segment was a second mixed program of seven works. As an opener, Rosalyn Nasky restaged her "Poet's Love," which premiered last month in a program by Ready|Set|Go!. In the piece, baritone Brian Petty and a keyboardist perform Schumann's "Dicterliebe" song cycle as Nasky interprets it in movement and gesture. Scarcely moving from a spot slightly upstage of the singer, her body first twitches and jerks, as if hypersensitive to the music. Riding the music's intensity, the movement charges toward the obsessive: a repeated slamming down into splits, an orgasmic shudder that ends with one arm reaching to the heavens. Seeing the piece for the second time, I liked it even pmore and realized that the dancer and the singer are not in competition for our attention, because Nasky's movements are like annotations – the fascinating marginalia of a highly sensitive response to the song.

In the same program, L. Brooke Schlecte premiered "Streetlights. People." in which four women seemed to draw from individual sets of gestures in rolling vignettes, gentle reactions, and complementary shapes. Overall, I found the piece smart and whole. Also of note was "Between Death and I, You Stand," for which the lights went up on choreographer Sharon Marroquin in sleepy entanglement with her student, Ciara Walsh, age 11. The piece is part of a full-length project, scheduled for March of next year, inspired by Marroquin's experiences with breast cancer. In this excerpt, Marroquin and Walsh, whose character seems to be both Marroquin's child and her own younger self, clasp each other and struggle, move apart and together, grappling between dissonant feelings and empathy. Yet another piece, "He Said, She Said" by Cheryl Chaddick, bordered on the cheeky but contained enough power – thanks to dancer Lynn Forney – and tenderness to escape it.

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