Shay Ishii Dance Company

In 'New Moon,' a dance to remind us how to let go

Members of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company performing New Moon
Members of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company performing "New Moon" (Courtesy of Tony Cenicola)

Each time the dancer Erick Hawkins saw the new moon, he was reminded of the closing lines of an e.e. cummings poem:

"teach disappearing also me the keen illimitable secret of begin."

Just as cummings "reminded him how to live," the dances of Erick Hawkins remind us how to let go. Hawkins danced with both George Balanchine's Ballet Caravan and later on with Martha Graham in the 1930s, but Hawkins' own work carries with it the fascinating legacy of what it cast off. As both performer and artist, he stepped away from the restraint of ballet and Martha Graham's highly muscled, percussive movement technique, instead formulating a movement philosophy based on muscular fluidity and free flow. At its core, Hawkins' technique explores the moment-to-moment having and letting go of control, a luscious combination of satisfaction and risk that assumes that the body already knows how to move itself ergonomically without a lot of "doing." Since his death in 1994 the company has continued producing his work, mainly on the East Coast, but, thanks to a dedicated Central Texas cohort of Hawkins-trained dancers, Austin and San Marcos will have the rare opportunity to experience this dancer/philosopher's masterwork, "New Moon" (1989), reconstructed by the Shay Ishii Dance Company. A lyrically evocative group piece inspired by e.e. cummings' poetry and images from 16th century Persian poetry, "New Moon" was choreographed toward the end of Hawkins' life, following a stroke. He endeavored to create movement in the bodies of his dancers rather than in his own body, a poignant further relinquishment that became the layered quilt of duets, trios, and quartets, keenly capturing the essence of each original dancer.

Reverently named in honor of his collection of lectures and essays, the concert a clear place will also include original work by SIDC, Katri Shaller, and Katherine Duke, artistic director of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company. The performance of "New Moon" will utilize the distinctive original costumes and set, and will also feature a live chamber ensemble performing the original Lou Harrison score. According to Ishii, who also teaches dance at Texas State University, "underneath the serenity of the piece, a dance that looks so effortless, is the complex musicality that uses all aspects of a performer and demands that they be fully present in the work." If Ishii has her way, Hawkins' reconstructions will become a fixture in the Central Texas dance season, harkening back to the Seventies and Eighties, when the Hawkins company was a frequent guest of Texas State University's dance program. Hawkins' ode to new beginnings seems a fitting choice to initiate a celebration of our rich dance heritage and a movement philosophy that remains relevant and vital for dancers of any age.

Shay Ishii Dance Company presents a clear place Saturday, July 7, 5 & 8pm, at AustinVentures StudioTheater, 501 W. Third, Austin; and Friday and Saturday, July 13-14, 8pm, at the Mainstage Theatre, 430 Moon, Texas State University campus in San Marcos. For more information, visit

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