The Austin Chronicle

Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company's Disrupted

KDHDC and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance used classical music to launch into playful patterns and absurd rituals

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, December 9, 2016, Arts

Choreographer Kathy Dunn Hamrick invited the Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, a youthful troupe that has appeared at Hamrick's Austin Dance Festival, to share the program for her company's winter show. For the first half of the performance, Hamrick's company presented her new The Four (3) Seasons, danced to a recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons as recomposed by Max Richter. For the second half, the Dark Circles danced company director Joshua L. Peugh's The Rite of Spring, set to a recording of the Stravinsky, with its scratches amplified.

The Four (3) Seasons, an abstract dance that Hamrick said "has nothing to do with seasons," was cooler and less cathartic than Hamrick's past several works, which is understandable. She recently lost her company's longtime performance space (Salvage Vanguard Theater, which was priced out of its Manor Road building); for this show, she admitted in the preshow address, the companies had to cram in their tech and spacing rehearsals the day of opening night. By 8pm, they were exhausted, and it showed just a tiny bit. While the tone of Hamrick's work is often pensive, her signature touches of playfulness were fewer here. When the dancers stood still during a big crescendo, the refusal seemed almost political. "You know what, we're just not doing it," they seemed to say. But then, in the silence that followed, a big group scampered in en masse.

Like Hamrick's previous works, however, the movement was inventive, and lighting and design by Stephen Pruitt created a glowing, saturated world onstage, this time with a color-changing backdrop, beginning in turquoise that melted into navy. Costume designer Magdalena Jarkowiec gave white tops and leggings sporty pops of color on the forearms and shins, calling attention to their expressiveness and vulnerability. They were emphasized in the movement, too, in quick elbow-driven gestures and languid floor work. While there were euphoric moments – a jump straight upward, for example, at the first explosion in the music – this work was interested in patterns, not relationships, at least not outward ones. More than once, the dancers traced the midline of their faces with the side of their palms, centering themselves.

On the other hand, Peugh's reimagining of Rite of Spring, set during a midcentury high school prom, considered couples, the individual, and the pack. To begin, the 10 dancers chose dates from the audience, whom they quickly abandoned to wallflower status, in metal folding chairs at the perimeter of the stage. The professional dancers paired off to perform Peugh's wonderfully kooky social-dance choreography – comic, inventive, and slick. Will it ever get old, this kind of absurdifying of our rituals that enables us to marvel at our own ridiculousness? Not yet. But the work, helped by costume designer Susan Austin and scenic designer Carlos Nicholls Mejia, also kept up Rite's dark side. The women, in full-skirted party dresses and beige socks, pointed fingers and drew them in front of the men's faces, as though hypnotizing them. Despite frayed streamers and jubilant lighting, a basketball hoop loomed over the scene like a bucket of pigs' blood.

One couple had cross-dressed, and they moved seamlessly between the male and female groups. When Chadi El-Khoury, wearing a turquoise dress and red lipstick, sat atop another man's shoulders, the chuckles from the audience were unnerving. When the group turned its attention to him, the chosen one, El-Khoury performed hints of a mad scene. They chased him with a crown and bouquet – he was the sole honoree at this prom – and after climbing over chairs to escape it, he eventually relented and stoically accepted the crown. After the dancers bowed, they left their audience member "dates" alone onstage to decide for themselves whether to bow, shuffle off, or stay put.


AustinVentures StudioTheater, 501 W. Third
Dec. 3

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