Big Range Austin

One-stop stepping

Leah Smiley Tubbs
Leah Smiley Tubbs

Most of the year, Austin's contemporary dancemakers are pretty far-flung, across the calendar and across the city: a midwinter show at the Off Center here, a late spring show at the Dougherty Arts Center there, a couple of autumn showcases at the Boyd Vance Theatre and Austin Community College, and so on. So if you were of a mind to take the pulse of the city's choreographic community, you'd pretty much have to devote a year to the task and count on touring a dozen different performance venues scattered around town.

Or you could just spend two summer weekends at Salvage Vanguard Theater on Manor Road. With the establishment of the Big Range Austin dance festival in 2008, Spank Dance Company Artistic Director Ellen Bartel provided a forum in which a host of local choreographers can get together, showcase their work, collaborate, and challenge themselves. In just the 2010 edition, starting June 25 and continuing through the Fourth of July, you can sample work by more than 15 area dancemakers, and that includes accomplished, established artists such as Andrea Ariel, Toni Bravo, Brenna Kuhn, and Anuradha Naimpally alongside such up-and-comers on the scene as Leah Smiley Tubbs (Ballet Afrique), Ann Berman (Forklift Danceworks), Lisa Del Rosario (Sheep Army), and Mary Chase (Dance Repertory Theatre). And since the festival isn't restricted to Austinites, you'll also have the opportunity to compare and contrast the steps of our own movement artists with those from Huntsville (NobleMotion Dance) and Denton (a contingent from Texas Woman's University's Master of Fine Arts in dance program), plus a pair of Austin expats: Cristina Jesurun, currently in New York City, and Elizabeth Rose, now in Seattle.

All this motion is packed into a mere four programs. The opener and closer are tried-and-true showcases, with seven different choreographers/companies represented on each bill. Sandwiched between them are programs that demonstrate how Bartel's Big Range keeps these dance artists on their toes: a composers' challenge, in which two choreographers create separate dances to the same piece of original music by a local composer, and a music and movement improvisation program, with an ensemble-generated score and framework. (It was the latter show from last year's Big Range that landed on Chronicle critic Jonelle Seitz's list of Top 9 Lasting Impressions in Dance From 2009.) It's worth noting that these middle programs are presented back-to-back on the same nights, and one ticket gets you into both.

The full schedule follows. Get on down to SVT, and you might save yourself that year of seeking out local choreographers' work. On the other hand, you might find yourself so inspired by what you see that you'll spend the year going out to see Austin contemporary dance anyway.

Program A: Mixed Showcase

Friday-Saturday, June 25-26, 8pm

This year's festival opens with the most Austin-centric program, showing us how seven locals are shaking up our contemporary dance scene. Showcasing choreographers are: Leah Smiley Tubbs (Ballet Afrique), Ann Berman (Forklift Danceworks), Lisa Del Rosario (Sheep Army), Mary Chase (University of Texas Master of Fine Arts in dance/Dance Repertory Theatre), Rosalyn Nasky (ReadySetGo!), Andrea Ariel (Ariel Dance Theatre), Toni Bravo (Diverse Space Dance/Theatre).

Program B: Composer Challenge

Thursday-Friday, July 1-2, 8pm

Three pairs of choreographers are each matched with an Austin composer and are tasked with creating different dances to the same piece of music.

Composer 1: Adam Sultan; choreographers: Meredith Cook, Shawn Nasralla

Composer 2: Graham Reynolds; choreographers: Kendra Slack, Cristina Jesurun

Composer 3: Amalia Litsa/Aaron Dugan; choreographers: Amanda Jackson, Katherine Hodges

Program C: Music and Movement Improvisation

Thursday-Friday, July 1-2, 9:15pm

A group of performers has collectively developed a score and framework within which they collectively improvise movement. Owen Weaver is music director. Pat Stone is movement director. Whitney Boomer, Matthew Cumbie, Lily Sloan, Amanda Jackson, Meredith Cook, Karen Carlson, and Emily Babb create the movement.

Program D: Mixed Showcase

Saturday, July 3, 8pm; Sunday, July 4, 2pm

The festival closes with a choreographic fireworks display combining homegrown and visiting dance artists. Lily Sloan (Texas Woman's University Master of Fine Arts in dance), Bethany Nelson (Texas Woman's University Master of Fine Arts in dance), Ellen Bartel (Spank Dance), Elizabeth Rose (Seattle), NobleMotion Dance (Huntsville), Brenna Kuhn (FootNotes), Anuradha Naimpally (Austin Dance India).

Big Range Austin runs June 25-July 4, at Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd. For more information, call 474-7886 or

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For MacDougal and Le Razer, moving bodies and music are one

Jonelle Seitz, June 5, 2009

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Big Range Austin, Ellen Bartel, Spank Dance, Andrea Ariel, Toni Bravo, Brenna Kuhn, Anuradha Naimpally, Leah Smiley Tubbs, Ann Berman, Lisa Del Rosario

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