'The Mozart Project'

Messing with Amadeus

It's the start of the ballet season: Dancers are refreshed and eager, new dancers and promotions enliven the veteran ranks, and programming like Ballet Austin's The Mozart Project sets out to prove "damn straight, we're good." The ambitious lineup boasts three new works choreographed by Artistic Director Stephen Mills, all danced to live music. For "Wolftanzt" (the best dance title I've heard in a long time), Austin Chamber Music Center Artistic Director Michelle Schumann and a string quartet from the center will play a version of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major. "Though the Earth Gives Way" is set to music by Graham Reynolds – who gave a nod to Mozart during the creative process but assures you won't hear any 18th century motifs in the piece – for electrified violin and cello. "Echo Boom" will feature new video and on-the-spot mixed music by Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid.

After having jammed all that into a paragraph, the fabulousness of the program, packed with goodies sure to prove the worth of one's ticket, is clear to me. But beforehand, for a minute, I was skeptical: Was inviting big names to interpret the biggest name in classical music pandering to the most basic knowledge in an effort to cast the widest net possible for an audience? Isn't the best way to appreciate Mozart to listen to his music closely, purely, free from distraction? So I emailed a few of the artists: Why mess with Mozart?

Schumann, Mills, and Reynolds politely set me straight. How can you not mess with Mozart? The fact is, we've all heard bits of his work somehow, somewhere – if not in concert, then perhaps in front of the television: Mozart is rampant in commercials, cartoons, and movies. And that is exactly why it should be revisited, reconsidered, jumped off from, they wrote. It's in our DNA, wrote Schumann; part of our "music literacy," noted Mills. Reynolds and Schumann reminded me that, duh, composers don't live in bubbles, so it's impossible not to be influenced by Mozart, and purposefully delving into his mastery results in richness, illumination, a kind of collaboration.

Schumann also reminded me about the sheer joy of association and allusion. Of course! Working with Mozart lets in the greatest number of audience members, inviting all of us to make those connections and build our personal experiences with the composer's genius. Upon stepping out of the theatre into the ever-so-slightly crisp night air, synapses firing, for a few minutes we can have it all: the we and here and now coexisting with fast-fading images of the dancers' movement, musical motifs clarified by choreography, a few remaining droplets of sound, along with all the television commercials and cartoons of childhood – melodies plinked out from the scores of our memories.

The Mozart Project will be performed Sept. 30-Oct. 2, Friday & Saturday, 8pm, and Sunday, 3pm, in Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, call 476-2163 or visit www.balletaustin.org.

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The Mozart Project, Ballet Austin, Stephen Mills, Michelle Schumann, Austin Chamber Music Center, Graham Reynolds, Paul D. Miller, DJ Spooky

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