Third Time's the Charm

Andrea Ariel keeps going back to the 'Gyre,' diving deeper and finding deeper truths

(L-r) Andrea Ariel, Steve Ochoa, Adriene Mishler, and Jude Hickey
(L-r) Andrea Ariel, Steve Ochoa, Adriene Mishler, and Jude Hickey (Photo by Caroline Mowry)

Around these parts it used to be that a theatre or dance production was a one-shot proposition. You put it together for however long a run you could, and when you reached the last performance, that was that. You packed it away and simply moved on to the next show. In time, some productions wound up being successful enough that the artists decided to revive them, and these days that happens often enough to be almost commonplace, as seen by Capital T Theatre's hit staging of Killer Joe this summer, Forklift Danceworks' revival of Skate! A Night at the Rink, and Ken Webster's regular resuscitations of monologue shows such as House. But we're also witnessing more companies developing new works not with the aim of a one-off premiere but more of a series of premieres, with the work given a full production each time but with room for change – sometimes substantive change – from run to run. That's what the Rude Mechanicals did with The Method Gun, and they're taking a similar approach with their new work, I've Never Been So Happy, which has been workshopped in sections during the past year. (The next installment takes place Sept. 10-20 at the Off Center.) This week sees choreographer Andrea Ariel presenting the third iteration of a piece she first presented as Gyre three years ago. That show didn't quite mine everything in the material that she wanted, but rather than chalk it up as a noble failure and move on to a new project, Ariel continued to work on it, inviting in new collaborators and allowing the work to evolve in new directions – not once but twice. With Flush: The Gyre Project, Part III about to open, the Chronicle asked Ariel about the journey she has taken with this work.

Austin Chronicle: What was the original concept of the piece?

Andrea Ariel: In 2005, I was doing research for a series of one-minute dances, and I discovered that the world consumes one million plastic bags every minute of every day. The number astounded me. I started to think a lot about plastic. I became aware of the North Pacific Gyre through research published by Charles Moore, a marine biologist who sailed through it on the way home from a fishing expedition in 2002. What he found brought him back to conduct research, measure, trawl, and sample the area. There is much documentation now of the North Pacific Gyre, now called the North Pacific Garbage Patch. But in 2005-2006, not so much was known about it. I wanted to create a work that landed us right in the gyre and developed a metaphor of the trash outside us to the trash inside us: what we discard, push down, cover up, don't want to look at. We started creating the gyre. Everyone gathered plastic for rehearsal, and we had a stage filled with plastic, an encumbrance to dance – everyone thought I was crazy. The story was based on four people who, in a life-changing moment, were thrust into the North Pacific Gyre to deal with the things they needed to deal with. To move on or go back to it. And maybe open up to others and the Earth we live on.

AC: What led you to want to rework it?

AA: After closing the first show in 2006, I was not completely satisfied. We had some late changes that thrust us into a fast and furious process. Which was great and achieved something really lovely, but I felt there was still much left to mine. Also, the creation of an original work with dance, music, script, and video design expands the time needed for development exponentially with each element. And we were just starting to learn that then. In the second development in 2007, Christina J. Moore joined as co-director and Cyndi Williams as writer. We really developed the story and characters, including the moments prior to their arrival in this strange place. We added new music and video. Yet I was still unsatisfied with blurring the lines of dance and theatre. I am not after a "dansical." I am after a physical language that can traverse the disciplines as it needs and not be separate parts but part of a whole. There was more digging to do, and we still had enormous postproduction notes on how to get better at bringing together all these collaborations. There was still more for me.

AC: How has the input of the different collaborators affected the evolution of the show?

AA: Each and every collaborator has been an essential part of the creative evolution of the work. Each step has unveiled more, given us an opportunity to explore the subject, crack it open, and ask questions. Big questions. And have fun doing it. Every person has brought their unique perspective and imprint to it. We would not have uncovered the deeper truths we have been looking for and gained a better understanding of what is needed to bring so many artists together. The technical collaborators have also been a huge part of helping develop the right structure to bring it all together. Flush has a team of 14 collaborators. Four are new to the project over this last year; the rest have been part of one or both of the others. I am very excited about bringing projection designers Gail Scott White and Kirby Malone of Cyburbia Productions, based in Fairfax, Va., to Austin to work with us. I am also thrilled to be collaborating with Sonnet Blanton, who is co-director and writer. She brought us clear eyes to see it all fresh, and together we are creating, with the other cast members, Jude Hickey, Adriene Mishler, and Steve Ochoa, a completely new mystery and adventure.

AC: You've had workshops to draw input from the community. What prompted that?

AA: I have always had a strong focus toward finding opportunities to connect with the community as part of the creation of my work. In 2006, I was invited by NACL [North American Cultural Laboratory, Highland Lake, N.Y.] to be one of five ensemble theatre companies to participate in the development of a new work, American Value, by Michael Rohd of Sojourn Theatre, based in Portland, Oregon. Michael has developed a whole methodology for creating work through engaging with a community on a subject that is important to it. I decided to take his training to learn more. It was a great inspiration in my own path to make work that digs into the real things we are dealing with. It invites the community into the process to enlarge the perspectives and points of view of the subject.

Sonnet and I directed a series of workshops because we are interested in exploring the subject of this work in a wider way. We had two workshops in June, one of which was with a group of high school students. Sonnet and I, with the rest of the ensemble, invited the community members into our process, and we played games, asked difficult questions, and made things that explored our responses to our subject. The time flew by! I look forward to holding more of them in the future.

AC: What do you want to get out of Gyre this time, thematically and artistically? And how does that vary from what you wanted to do in the earlier versions?

AA: The most wonderful, magical discovery is that, after all these years, the work has pointed us back to ourselves. It's about us. It's not about the plastic or trash. It's an invitation. An adventure. An opportunity for something great to happen. We are not in the gyre, rather it is outside of where we are. It is part of our world. But it is part of a bigger body, or force, that has a voice in the work. We have set out to create work about transformation. To seek audacious joy and laughter and balance. Find the perfect person to start the healing. It really is an invitation, a mystery, and a treasure hunt. Instead of diving into the darkness, we are fashioning darkness into something new.

Flush: The Gyre Project, Part III runs Aug. 21-29, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 5pm, at the Rollins Studio Theatre of the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, call 474-5664 or visit

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Ariel Dance Theatre, Andrea Ariel, Gyre, FLUSH: The Gyre Project, Part III, Christina J. Moore, Cyndi Williams, Sonnet Blanton

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