New American Talent / Dance

Not everyone agreed with the clear winner in Ballet Austin's competition this year, and enough with the tweets

James Gregg's The Space Between
James Gregg's "The Space Between" (Photo courtesy of Tony Spielberg)

Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
March 29

Choreography competitions like Ballet Austin's biennial New American Talent/Dance are two-headed beasts. There's no question that they enable choreographers to gain recognition and experience working with versatile, cohesive groups of dancers, and allowing local audiences to pick winners and losers is a surefire way to engage them. But when dances are commissioned specifically for competition, it stands to follow that some choreographers will make dances for the explicit purpose of winning votes, despite the fact that pandering to the committee is not the modus operandi of most serious choreographers. Worse, audience members whose points of view don't align with the "correct" ones implied by competition results can feel alienated or devalued.

James Gregg's flashy, energetic "The Space Between" won the audience award for each of the three performances; surprisingly, it was the also the favorite of the jurors: Houston dance journalist Nancy Wozny, Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, and Dallas arts programmer Charles Santos. According to Gregg in a video clip before the performance, the piece was about dreams, and it had a lot of what you might expect: angsty struggles with invisible things, dueling faux bitchslaps and round kicks, slo-mo sequences. Gregg is young, but the dance's tropes – new to him, perhaps – were, in a broader context, already tired.

I voted for the piece I'd most like to see again: Gabrielle Lamb's "Dovetail," which was the jury's least favorite. To plucky, circusy music, the ensemble of nine sustained a viscous quality. Lamb's inspiration for the piece was ballet-company life, which was fodder for bits of humor: a vignette of women who splayed their hands atop their heads like tiaras, and three dancers, looking on from the corner at another's apparent breakdown, fluttering their hands in periodic punctuation. Though the music became tiresome once it reached a relentless jogging pace, "Dovetail" had complexity, loveliness, humanity, and a novel point of view.

Jimmy Orrante's "Ya Me Fue," which the jury awarded second place, was a fine work, too. In duets and trios to the songs of Maria Dolores Pradera, there was tenderness around every corner, and subtle extensions had tango-like sensuousness.

I stand with the majority of the audience in congratulating the dancers, who were cast and showcased well in each work. However, I don't share the audience's nonchalance about the self-congratulatory tweets projected during intermissions. Added to the precurtain commercials and clips shown when program notes would do, the tweets tip screen-time at the ballet into overload mode; the theatre is no longer a temporary dam between us and the omnipresent stream. Art feels best when it's saving us from something. When it's tangled up in the thing we most need to be saved from, it feels like propaganda.

READ MORE
More New American Talent / Dance
City Moves
City Moves
This year, three New York choreographers vie for top prize in Ballet Austin's dance-off

Jonelle Seitz, Feb. 17, 2012

Ballet Austin
Ballet Austin
Big Apple scores big with 'NAT/D' 4

Robert Faires, Dec. 23, 2011

More Austin dance
Jonelle Seitz's Top 10 Brave Dance Artists of 2016
Jonelle Seitz's Top 10 Brave Dance Artists of 2016
The year revealed how much courage and inspiration can be found in Austin's masters of movement

Jonelle Seitz, Dec. 30, 2016

The Theorists' <i>Hiraeth</i>
The Theorists’ Hiraeth
A sprawling evening of art and community organized by Amy Morrow and company showed the challenge of editing in our age

Jonelle Seitz, Sept. 23, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Renaissance Austin's <i>My Big Fat Bahookie</i>
Renaissance Austin’s My Big Fat Bahookie
Lorella Loftus' really funny new play preaches that everybody's got back, and that's just great

T. Lynn Mikeska, April 28, 2017

The Phantom of the Opera at Bass Concert Hall
The Phantom of the Opera at Bass Concert Hall
This new touring production makes a grandly restaged, compelling tale of thin source material, with a chandelier drop that still thrills

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 28, 2017

More by Jonelle Seitz
2017 Austin Dance Festival
2017 Austin Dance Festival
This year's showcase of two dozen dances proved how Austin's dancing has risen to the level of its dance making

April 7, 2017

<i>Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees</i>
Las Cuatro Estaciones: A Story of Human Trees
In Sharon Marroquín's new dance, we are all gnarled and heliotropic

March 24, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

New American Talent / Dance, Austin dance, Ballet Austin, James Gregg, Gabrielle Lamb, Jimmy Orrante

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)