Perhaps it was the people pretending to be squirrels on the LBJ Library lawn. Or maybe the daughter playing actual tapes of her father deejaying on country radio years ago. It might have been the look at sexual identity featuring puppet sperm and eggs. Or there were those two boy penguins who took up together and started a family. The thing is, it's hard to pinpoint the most surprising work I saw at the 2011 Cohen New Works Festival because so much of what the students in the UT Department of Theatre & Dance come up with in their biennial binge of original projects surprises. They're given the freedom to develop whatever kind of project they like – naturalistic comedy, documentary drama, site-specific dance, interactive work for toddlers, architectural installation, collaborative exploration of a theme, chamber opera, or any mix thereof – and take full advantage of it. The stories they choose to tell and the ways in which they choose to tell them reveal an exhilarating desire to connect in unexpected ways. For any arts fan looking for what the next generation of performance makers and designers is all about, the five days of the festival provide an eyeful. And it's all free!
The 2013 edition crams more than 30 projects into the time from Monday, March 25, 11am, to Friday, March 29, 8pm: 15 plays, six dance pieces, three outdoor site-specific works, three art installations, more than 10 commissioned pieces of music, and several transdisciplinary events. (Disclaimer: I've been a festival guest artist in the past, and this year, I have a daughter in the department who's not only involved in a project but is on the Executive Committee that planned the festival.) You can find all the projects listed at www.coopnwf.org, but here are a handful that might pique your interest.
Art-Vend: From designer Bich Vu (And Then Came Tango), a vending machine that dispenses art;
Colossal: From playwright Andrew Hinderaker and director Will Davis (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Cataract), the story of a UT football player who suffers a catastrophic spinal injury, told in epic style with a 20-person cast, a drum corps from the Longhorn marching band, and dancing;
The Women of Juarez: From Isaac Gomez, Bianca Sulaica, and an all-Latina ensemble, a collection of stories about the women of Ciudad Juarez – those who went missing, those who were murdered, and those who were left behind;
Bio Light: From designer Susan MacCorkle (And Then Came Tango), a series of costumes imitating Great Barrier Reef luminescent sea creatures;
Perceiving Campus: Architecture students Charlotte Friedley, Alex Dallas, Lincoln Davidson, Stephanie Nguyen, Estrella Juarez, Kim Villavicencio, and Michael Rahmatoulin take six views of the UT Tower and obscure them, literally reframing your view;
Synthesis: From companies Dance Action and Classical Reinvention, a guided performance through the Harry Ransom Center combining live music, movement, and photography.
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