Dance Fever

With Hot September Flurries, Austin choreographers burn up the Blue all month long

Elsewhere Dance Theatre at Dance Carousel 2005
Elsewhere Dance Theatre at Dance Carousel 2005

Forget about counting them on both hands. Or even using all your fingers and toes. To tally up the total number of choreographers working in Austin today, you'd need at least another couple appendages with full sets of digits. Or, say, a month. Because this town boasts enough dance makers to fill a page of the calendar with a different one for every doggone day.

Which is sort of what is going on at the Blue Theater with Hot September Flurries. A collective of eight choreographers headed by Ellen Bartel, artistic director of Spank Dance Company, has commandeered the warehouse space on Springdale for the four weeks aprés August in order to show off the wealth and diversity of choreographic talent in the city. Each week offers different programs – solos, group dances, themed dances, sometimes by assorted choreographers, sometimes by a specific choreographer or company – with a variety of creative lineups and approaches to movement. (See "Flurries Still to Come.")

Hot September Flurries makes a welcome addition to the arts calendar – you might even say a desperately needed one, for while we're not hurting for talent, all those local choreographers (30, 40, 50, more?) are widely dispersed across the landscape: a few in each of the larger companies (Ballet Austin, Tapestry, Sharir+Bustamante); many, many more spread among the smaller, independent companies of which Spank is part (and Forklift Danceworks and Ballet East and Deborah Hay and Aztlan Dance and Wicked Cricket and Blue Lapis Light and Kathy Dunn Hamrick and ...); some lodged in academe at the University of Texas or Austin Community College; some in private spaces such as Center Studio or Cafe Dance; and some just operating by themselves. That dispersion, combined with the fact that the majority of dance companies perform just once or twice a year and then for only a few shows, makes it easy for the rest of the city to miss them, to not know they're there. What the dance community could really use is a room of its own, so to speak, a prominent, easily visible focus for the art form that would bring together these disparate dance makers from the far-flung corners of the community in which they're so easily hidden.

Austin has had something like this, as recently as the last decade: a performing arts space that was primarily associated with dance (and independent dance at that) and a pair of annual showcases that served the dance community in much the way that FronteraFest serves local theatre artists and the Austin Chamber Music Festival does classical musicians. But Dance Umbrella lost its hold on Synergy Studio in 1997, and no venue has really filled the gap it's left since. Likewise for the Austin Festival of Dance and Dancefest, both of which faded from the scene four to five years ago. While Sharir+Bustamante has made a concerted effort to create an annual showcase for local choreographers and dance makers have infiltrated FronteraFest and continue to develop a larger presence there, neither effort offers that broad platform for giving the city a shot at seeing just how big and varied the choreographic talent here is.

Now, giving folks a month's worth of homegrown modern dance and the artists who make them, that stands a chance of making Austin sit up and take notice. Though before I go any further I should come clean and state that Hot September Flurries doesn't actually contain work by 30 local choreographers or feature performances every day of the month. This year the program involves a baker's dozen of dance makers and shows on 13 of the 30 days. Still, it's an intriguing mix of creators, with relative newcomers such as Lindsey Taylor and Kayo Tsujimoto alongside local arts stalwarts Toni Bravo and Kathy Dunn Hamrick; Bartel, whose most recent project, KillSport, was based on the cult film Death Race 2000, alongside Allison Orr, whose most recent project, The King and I, was a choreographic meditation on Elvis; plus Caroline Sutton Clark (Wicked Cricket Dance Theatre), Lauren Tietz (Improvisation Movement Project), Ray Eliot Schwartz (Elsewhere Dance Theater), Amy Cone, Sharon Marroquin, and Cherami Steadman.

And there's certainly room for the showcase to grow into that "30 choreographers in 30 days" ideal. You see, Refraction Arts Project, which runs the Blue Theater, has thrown its support behind Hot September Flurries for three more years. If previous history is any guide, that's plenty of time for the culture-going public to climb on board with it and make the Flurries one more permanent addition to the Austin arts festival calendar. But it won't reach that goal without more support from within the dance community. The showcase's debut was made possible by that collective of eight choreographers, none of whom have the money to spare for the production and publicity costs of an enterprise like this. But they saw the need, understood the value in that old saw about strength in numbers, and pitched in what they could to make it happen. How long they could keep that up is anyone's guess. Here's hoping they don't have to, that next year they'll be supported by so many choreographers that you could forget about counting them using all your fingers and toes. end story


Flurries Still to Come

Hot September Flurries runs through Oct. 1 at the Blue Theater, 916 Springdale. Tickets are $8-15 and may be purchased at the door. A reception follows each performance. Art by dancers and about dance is on display in a gallery at the theatre. For more information, call 927-1118 or visit www.spankdance.com. – R.F.

Shish-ka-bob!
An inventory of old and new works by Amy Cone
Sept. 15-16, Thursday and Friday, 8pm

Improvisation Movement Project
Sept. 17-18, Saturday and Sunday, 8pm

Theme Dance: A Choreographer/Composer Challenge!
In collaboration with composers Andy Hadaway and Sam Stolte, choreographers Allison Orr, Kayo Tsujimoto, Sharon Marroquin, and guests Lindsey Taylor, Cherami Steadman, and Toni Bravo will each split the two compositions and create a dance with the theme of either Canary Yellow or Nightmare Down the Hall.
Sept. 20-22, Tuesday-Thursday, 7:45pm

Group Dances
Choreography by Elsewhere Dance Theater, Sharon Marroquin, Kayo Tsujimoto, and guests Kathy Dunn Hamrick and – from Minneapolis – David DeBlieck and David Harris.
Sept. 29-Oct. 1, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm

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