During classes and rehearsals, the studios and hallways of Ballet Austin's home bustle with animation, expression, and music. But what happens after everyone goes home? Does all that energy leave the building, or is some left behind? Although Cheryl Chaddick's after-hours, room-by-room performance in the building's studios, nooks, and crannies has a degree of mystery, its energy is less effusive than that of its daily inhabitants.
Before the performance I saw, the audience was divided into two groups, as some of the smallest performance spaces can accommodate only about 15 people. However, we all watched the first vignette together in the foyer. On the balcony above us, Katie Mae Hebert, an engaging and strong dancer, wove her limbs through the spindles of the railing and threw herself against it – frighteningly, it shook – to an ominous electronic composition by UT student Chris Donahue. Two figures in white butoh-inspired masks and draped in red fabric crouched on the stairs, their gazes slowly panning in tandem.
When Hebert's solo concluded, her legs dangling over the balcony, the groups went separate ways, each seeing the same six vignettes, but in a different order. My group visited a large studio with high windows in which four white-masked dancers in layers of white skirts, like forgotten porcelain dolls in glass cases, towered over us. As their slow gestures and upper-body movement to atmospheric music by John Michael Hunt evoked desperation and isolation, the effect was something like Joseph Cornell meets butoh. For me, it was the evening's richest vignette.
The remaining performances took place on the balcony overlooking Second Street (we sat inside and viewed the dancers through floor-to-ceiling windows), in a closet-sized nook in a studio, in a small window looking into another studio, in a large studio with jewel-tinted windows, and on a fire escape ladder (grouped below guest Nicole Whiteside, we craned our sore necks to ogle her serious musculature). The use of spaces and existing lighting – aided only by draped fabric and a few extra lights (lighting by Steven Myers) – was creative. However, some vignettes were less than engaging and lacked a connection: A slapstick duo – two people in one large polo shirt – went on far too long and was followed by a somber segment in which three shrouded, prostrate women thrashed on the floor. Though the locked-in feeling was a bit exciting, the lack of cohesiveness and overall slow pace dampened that excitement.
The lengthy finale, unfortunately, seemed to undermine the vignettes' individual worth rather than tie them together. Nine dancers in evening wear discarded white masks to form trite relationships wrought by cliches. Afterward, a masked, red-draped figure – from the first segment – slowly emerged from layers of fabric in a corner, a welcome return to fantasy from the finale's tedious reality.
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