The Austin Chronicle

Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company

From a coo of comfort to a veiled threat

By Dawn Davis Loring, June 17, 2011, Arts

With typical candor, Kathy Dunn Hamrick admits that when she began to create her newest piece, "murmur," for Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company's SummerDance concert, she faced her dancers at the first rehearsal not knowing what the dance would be. She had only the title, a mysterious, cooing word that imparts softness and comfort. It is a wonderful word to savor quietly – impossible to say without blowing a double-kiss. However, for Dunn Hamrick, the sinister aspects of the word kept bubbling up, infusing the movement with anxiety and a simmering sense of foreboding, producing a darker and perhaps more introspective dance than any she has yet produced.

"Instead of exploring the idea of comfort, I ended up with an image of murmur as a veiled threat, something that comes on so slowly that you don't notice until it is too late," she says. "I didn't set out to do that, but lately it feels like the world has turned upside down. Recent events make me question if we are considering the consequences of our actions, whether political, environmental, or social."

The process of creating "murmur" proved to be a departure as well. "I usually encourage my dancers to incorporate personal narrative into the movement, but not this time," says the choreographer. "I needed them to be representations of everyone – I needed them to be symbols." Even ending the piece brought Dunn Hamrick the unexpected. Amid elements of storytelling, militaristic images, and humorous moments, she had to turn the piece upside down for it to finally make sense. Toward the end of the rehearsal process, she swapped the ending for the beginning, and it began to hum. For Dunn Hamrick, this new work absorbed some of the surrounding disquiet during its development and reflects a powerful sense of urgency: "With this piece, I've made my statement and not been totally silent about what I find disturbing."

Her son, Jacob Hamrick, created the original score for "murmur," inspired by the sounds of dancers moving physically through space. His goal for this piece was to create "music that is fluid, ambient, seamless, and dynamic," a perfect foil for Dunn Hamrick's ineffable rhythmic lusciousness. The concert closes the 12th performing season of KDH Dance and hosts three pieces by Houston's NobleMotion Dance. They will premiere "The Chamber," with live music by My Education; "Photo Box D," a dance created within an original light installation by artist Jeremy Choate that causes dancers to disappear and reappear; and "a small place," a solo of struggle and psychological confinement.

Faced with so much newness, perhaps the biggest question remaining for you as a prospective audience member is: Should you take this journey? It's unsettling, filled with contrast, and it could be scary. It can be a hard sell to get people to choose substance over escape during times of great difficulty and suffering – and it is summer, after all. But if you go, know that you will be in a room full of commiserating souls watching glorious and challenging dance unfold. You are sure to find comfort in like-minded company.

SummerDance runs Thursday-Saturday, June 16-18, 8pm, at AustinVentures StudioTheater, 501 W. Third. For more information, call 934-1082 or visit

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