The Austin Chronicle

Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company's True Story

In Kathy Dunn Hamrick's new dance, communities, like truths, were fluid and the movement was incomparable

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, December 11, 2015, Arts

During the few moments when the dancers moved synchronously in Kathy Dunn Hamrick's newest work for her company of nine, they weren't a bunch of people doing the same thing; they were individual artists, humans, each telling a uniquely gripping version of the most common of stories. The dance, Hamrick told us, was inspired by our fixation with "truths" – the truths we create and the truths we seek and, sometimes, learn. In True Story, communities, like truths, were fluid: a group was swept away, leaving a trio, duet, or solo. Dancers swapped in and out of a quick-fire quartet (evidence of the truth of the thrill in testing the body's limits). Entrances and exits were made through screen doors that lined the three walls (lighting designer Stephen Pruitt also devised the set). Sometimes people lingered outside the screens, looking in.

Hamrick's ensemble of six women and three men is incomparable in this city, due to each dancer's artistry and skill as well as Hamrick's curation (and retention) of the wonderfully diverse group. (The lanky musculature and openness of D. Poet Powell, the only dancer new to the group this season, fills gaps that we didn't realize existed before.) I haven't seen most of Hamrick's 20-year body of work, but over the last few years, her dancers and each work – of at least two hourlong dances per year – seem even more sophisticated, more human, more poignant, and more important than the last. Hamrick's dances show us how to be: how to approach, how to respond, how to accept challenges and joys. If I'd been able to, I'd have returned to the theatre four hours later to see True Story again.

Throughout True Story, the dancers held their arms away from the body as they moved, as though trying to encompass something. Over the first two-thirds of the work, the lighting gradually changed from warm to shadowy, as the costuming, everyday trousers and tailored tops, stealthily shifted from sandy neutrals to brighter beach tones: blues, pinks, aquas, greens. Humor and surprises appeared where we needed them – just as they do, one might say, in a good life. Sudden entrances on all fours, a scooping lift out of nowhere, and a collective gaze turned toward the audience were all evidences of other truths, as was the use of the set: When there is a knock at a door, what choice does one have but to open it? There were nods to, and perhaps commentary through, various social dances: In a brilliant square-dance-inspired section, a circle of dancers do-si-doed and pivoted, changing places like the tiles of a sliding puzzle.

As in life, levity was tethered, and the work balanced its grace with grit, as when Mariclaire Gamble buried her face into the back of Jack Anthony Dunlap II, right into the sweat-soaked spot on his shirt. Soon after, in the last third of the piece, bright colors and bright lights suggested that this, the jewel tones and patterns, the confusion and speed, was the present, and everything we thought was so real before was only memory. The dancers returned periodically to a "ready" stance: feet apart, knees bent, elbows on knees, looking ahead. In the final vignette, eight of the dancers, each like a wavering star, stood on one leg and slowly moved the rest of their "points" – arms, head, the leg in the air – in space, suggesting both individualism and pluralism. But (another truth) the ninth dancer, Roman Christian, remained outside a door.

True Story

Salvage Vanguard Theater
Dec. 5, 3pm

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