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2009CriticsArts & Culture

Best Case of Inmates Running the Asylum
David Mark Cohen New Works Festival

We can't say every department on the 40 Acres should give itself over to the students for a week every two years, but man, does it work for the Department of Theatre & Dance. Its biennial David Mark Cohen New Works Festival – in which upward of 30 student-generated pieces of drama, dance, design, and film get their day in the sun – is a blast of concentrated creative energy that packs the exhilarating buzz of a quintuple espresso with a cappuccino chaser. Some works are so innovative and dynamic that they find life beyond the festival. The latest example: The Psyche Project, a rowdy, irreverent, wildly funny retelling of the Greek myth, which gets an encore run in the department Sept. 10-12.

University of Texas at Austin, 727 E. Dean Keeton, 512/471-3434, www.utexas.edu

Sarah M. & Charles E. Seay Building, Speedway & Dean Keeton, 512/471-1157

UT Architecture Library, 200 Battle Hall, 512/495-4620

University of Texas Department of Art & Art History, 2301 San Jacinto, 512/475-7718, www.utexas.edu

Best Comedy Tribute to the Deeply Geekified
Gnap! Theatre Projects' 'Guilds of Steel'

It would be enough for this supergroup of improvisers to perform a longform narrative set in a World of Warcraft-like MMORPG, but that they simultaneously portrayed the quotidian meatspace lives behind the weirdling avatars questing across the Salvage Vanguard stage every weekend for six weeks … ah, what's a good portmanteau for amazing and hilarious? Directed by Bryan Roberts and Michael Joplin under the aegis of Gnap! Theater Projects, this improv geekfest was more fun than a level 10 wizard with a magic whoopee cushion.

Best Creative Takeover of a Downtown Performance Venue
The Hideout Theatre

After a decade of providing Austin with a Downtown epicenter of improv comedy, the beloved Hideout Theatre was about to bar its storied doors for good. Sorrow loomed. But, no! Up jumps Parallelogramophonograph's Kareem Badr and Roy Janik and Jessica Arjet of Flying Theater Machine, forming a fierce triumvirate of entrepreneurial wherewithal to assume the lease and management, brimming with revamping plans and now – in cahoots with Michael McGill, Andy Crouch, and Kaci Beeler – making the venue an even hotter hotbed of improv hotness.

The Hideout Theatre, 617 Congress, 512/443-3688, www.hideouttheatre.com

Best Fashion Fantasist, 2000
Leslie Bonnell

An accomplished designer with an extensive understanding of fashion and fantasy, Bonnell takes what could be ordinary theatrical wear and transforms it into haute couture costumes of high style and soaring imagination. Her wizard's touch has graced such Zachary Scott Theatre Center productions as Tommy, The Santaland Diaries, and Schoolhouse Rock, but no show shows what she's best at better than Zach's 1999 take on The Rocky Horror Show, where she took the classic but now-hackneyed look of that gender-bent horror musical, added a touch of Thierry Mugler, a daub of Claude Montana, and a whole lot of Leslie Bonnell, and created visual magic.

Topfer Theatre at Zach, 202 S. Lamar, 512/476-0541, www.zachtheatre.org

Best Literary Salon 2.0
Five Things Austin

Forget the wine-and-cheese reading series of yore: Amelia Gray and Stacy Muszynski's Five Things Austin is the hip kid in town, a scrappy, freewheeling multimedia show that pairs Austin's leading lights in literature, music, and photography with a new generation of young pups just starting to feel the Beat – and all for a buck. Snaps.

Artseen Alliance, 512 W. 29th, 512/480-9562

Five Things Austin, www.fivethingsaustin.com

Best Master of Gesture
Sharon Marroquin

A wave of an arm like a willow bending. The cupping of hands as if scooping up water. The gentle laying of a palm against a cheek. With many dancers, the motion of the legs is what captures your eye, but when Sharon Marroquin takes the stage, it's her upper limbs that mesmerize. This gifted dancer and choreographer, known for her work with Ballet East, Diverse Space Dance Theatre, and Big Range Austin, is so focused in her gestures, so precise and yet fluid with her every movement, that each passage of her arms and hands through air is its own poem, its individual act of grace.

Ballet East Dance Company, 512/385-2838, www.balleteast.org

Best Museum Refreshment
Mexic-Arte Paletas

Sure, most museum stores are full of overpriced souvenirs meant to help patrons remember their museum experience. But it was a stroke of giddy genius when the Mexic-Arte masterminds installed the paleta case just inside the door of its Congress Avenue museum. Coconut, brown rice, melon, mango, piña – the flavors are delicious and just the thing to perk up that midafternoon slump when running those errands in sweltering Downtown Austin. There's something about slipping into a fine arts museum and stepping out with a simple treat that puts a smile on your face. And since you stepped inside, you may as well look at the art, right?

Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress, 512/480-9373, www.mexic-artemuseum.org

Best Nonprofit Upstart
Da! Theatre Collective

In a town where theatre troupes are a dime a dozen, Da! stands out not only for its integration of intensive disciplines such as the Vakhtangov tradition, the Feldenkrais Method, and Suzuki in its creations of new works (many of which have grown from Frontera Fest entries) and adaptations of folk classics (Heron & Crane) alike, but also for its forward-thinking ways. Just two of the many examples Da! sets for other troupes: It donates one of its children's performances to a Title 1 school for every paid performance and compensates its actors competitively, with the long-term goal of paying a living wage. Keep it up, Da!

DA! Theatre Collective, 511 W 43rd, 512/479-7530, www.datheatrecollective.org

Best Poetic Outlet
Ruta Maya's Open Mic

If it is a poetic itch you have, Ruta Maya can assist with the scratching. For many a year, the coffee shop on the hill has hosted poetry and music open mics every Tuesday evening and is proud to be the longest-running poetry open mic in Austin. Whether it's the rantings of the crazed or the brilliance of a fresh mind, the weekly readings are always entertaining. So go ahead, release those words. The crowd will clap, and your dirty wordy secret is safe with us.

Ruta Maya CLOSED, 3601 S. Congress Ste. D-200, 512/707-9637, www.rutamaya.net

Critics: Architecture & Lodging
Critics: Entertainment
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