A Voice of Her Own

Gina Patterson takes a step forward with a new dance company

Rebecca Niziol and Eric Midgley
Rebecca Niziol and Eric Midgley (Photo courtesy of Farid Zarrinabadi)

On the day after Christmas, when most are shamelessly returning those thought-that-counts gifts or downing leftover wassail, the first rehearsal of Voice Dance Company is under way in a vast studio off west RM 2222. Dancers Masa Kolar, a freelance artist from Zagreb, Croatia, and Chris Hannon, on loan from the James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis (and a former member of Ballet Austin), haven't met before the rehearsal, but their compatibility is striking. As choreographer Gina Patterson creates a nuzzling, orbiting, convulsing duet for them, it is apparent that their styles and physiques are completely complementary. Both have balletic lines on the raw side; her sinews are just the slightly smaller, slighter, feminine match to his. They both have dark curls pulled back in ponytails. Their facial bone structures are even similar. At times during the as-yet-untitled work in progress, the dancers accentuate this likeness by pressing their heads gently together, ear to ear, as they run across the studio. It's a delicate and bold image, quite touching.

Voice is a new venture co-founded by Artistic Director Patterson and her husband, Eric Midgley, both dancer-choreographers and former Ballet Austin dancers. During a quick-fire two-week rehearsal period, four more dancers – two from Richmond Ballet in Virginia, one from DanceWorks Chicago, and Michelle Thompson of Ballet Austin – will join the cast of Voice's premiere. One thing the new company will allow her to do, Patterson says, is "gather dancers that I want to savor more time with." Such dancers, she says, bring their own artistic sense into the studio and have that certain je ne sais quoi that inspires her work.

But the formation of Voice is also pragmatic, says Midgley: "There are things that you have to have some sort of container for." A much needed vehicle for showing and promoting Patterson's work at home – although her work is regularly commissioned and performed by companies and at festivals around the country and abroad, local performances have been relatively rare – Voice will also be a base for development of some bigger projects the duo has conceived together. For those who have been watching Patterson's dancing and choreography in Austin since she first joined Ballet Austin in 1988, Voice has been a long time coming.

Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino
Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino (Photo courtesy of Farid Zarrinabadi)

The first half of the inaugural performance will be a series of new pieces by Patterson, some of which may be, unbeknownst to the audience, the seeds of those bigger projects to come. They'll be threaded together in some way, somewhat like the accompanying art installation in the theatre lobby, the "Dream Threads Project," which will consist of images created by Deborah Maris Lader that have been downloaded, altered, and sent in by regular folks and assembled by Virginia Fleck. The second half of the show will be a restaging of My Witness, a work Patterson created last spring in Chicago, with onstage accompaniment by Chicago-based musicians the Sons of the Never Wrong.

Despite some tentative long-term strategies for Voice, the couple is trying to avoid setting any specific expectations for the company. For now, Patterson says: "The 'voice' is just ideas and concepts that we both believe, and we're keeping it fluid so it will have room to grow. I don't want to put barriers on it too soon. So I am staying open to where we need to go, but the values and the core of it is what we've put forward now."

Once or twice during our post-rehearsal conversation, Patterson loses the linear train of thought. Midgely explains: "Once she gets in choreographic mode, it's all imagery. It's not language-based. It's not as precise as words." Or maybe more precise?

Patterson: "We were just discussing that last night. I do think the great thing about dance is you can say so much with a simple movement, or just in the silence of something, with no words, that's so much more powerful."

Midgley: "It communicates to the viewer in a different way, too, because you're used to interpreting language into imagery. So when you see imagery that just connects with you directly, there's a whole other level that's functional, that's not about interpretation on the intellect."


Voice Dance Company will perform Friday and Saturday, Jan. 8 and 9, 8pm, at the Zach Theatre Kleberg Stage, 1421 W. Riverside. For more information, visit www.voicedancecompany.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Voice Dance Company, Austin dance, Gina Patterson, Eric Midgley, Ballet Austin, Chris Hannon

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