'Gyre': A swirling vortex of plastic ... and creativity

Ariel Dance Theatre revisits Gyre, its investigation of things we don't want to look at, and pulls into its spinning mass bunches of new artistic collaborators

Andrea Ariel in <i>Gyre</i>
Andrea Ariel in Gyre

Ten million square miles. Picture it. Don't allow it to be an abstraction. See it as a square if you like, roughly 3,000 miles by 3,000 miles. It isn't really that difficult to see it if you try. You can imagine the space of it, feel the overwhelming vastness of it. Ten million square miles. Now fill it with water. Salt water. Gallons and gallons, many million more gallons than the millions of miles you've already imagined. Can you see it? A vast, deep ocean that stretches from horizon to horizon? Now see it rotating within itself in a clockwise motion, turning and turning.

Now, dump in a bunch of plastic.

One of the wonderful things about the Austin arts community is that, in so many instances, it really is a community. Not too long ago, Andrea Ariel, who has been making dance in Austin for close to 20 years, participated in Spank Dance Company's Dance Carousel, in which 10 choreographers create four one-minute dances each. "I took the one-minute dances literally," says Ariel. "I thought, 'What happens in a minute?' I started doing research, and one of the facts I found was that a million plastic bags are consumed every minute of every day." Eventually her research led Ariel to the North Pacific Gyre, in which the strong clockwise current creates a swirling vortex just to the northeast of the Hawaiian Islands, a gyre that is now filled with six times more disintegrated plastic than there is zooplankton, one of the basic building blocks of oceanic life.

While dances can certainly be about things, on some level they're always about people, and it's people that Ariel is most interested in. "It started with that island of trash, but it ended up being about the ways that we don't want to look at things, the disposable side of our society. Done with that, throw it away, it's gone! But it's not really gone. I started to associate that on a personal level, with the things we push down and don't want to look at or clutter up or what we use to hide behind."

Ariel produced a version of Gyre last year, incorporating text and video design and creating a hybrid of dance and theatre. So why do it again? "Last year, one of our actors had to drop out very late in the process, so we ended up spending the final part of a very important process sort of recovering from that. I felt like it shortchanged what I wanted to find out about this, so I've decided to make it a three-year project. I've got another level I'd like to take this to, so this is the second stage." And she has more help this time, as she's recruited Christina J. Moore to co-direct; Cyndi Williams to write; a duo of composers, including Graham Reynolds; and a cadre of video designers. Says Ariel, "I really, really like collaboration, and I like working with a lot of different artistic disciplines. It's the loveliest thing that all these different artists are a part of this creation. It becomes this energy that fuels me, and it becomes its own community that then reaches out to draw in another community to share what we've made."

Sort of like … a gyre.

Gyre runs through March 10, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 5pm; at the Off Center, 2211 Hidalgo. For more information, call 474-8497, or visit www.arieldance.org.

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Gyre, Andrea Ariel, Austin dance, Ariel Dance Theatre

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