Culture Flash! March 2016

Honors for Dietz, compassion for ASO, and China for the ballet

Steven Dietz
Steven Dietz (Photo by Celesta Danger)

Breaking news on Austin's cultural scene this month includes national recognition for a local playwright, an international premiere for the symphony, and a very special trip for the ballet's Big Six-Oh.

• Congratulations to playwright Steven Dietz on being one of six finalists for the 2016 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, one of the most prestigious playwriting awards in the country. A faculty member in the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance and author of more than 30 plays (among them Becky's New Car, Fiction, Still Life With Iris, and Lonely Planet), Dietz was recognized for his script Bloomsday, which was commissioned by A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle and received its world premiere there this past September. The play uses James Joyce's Ulysses as a sort of jumping-off point to explore the relationship that might have been between an Irish woman and an American man who meet in their 20s but spend their lives apart. It was praised as “tender, beautiful, and heartbreaking”; “artful and elegant”; and “lovely and thoughtful.”

Through their professional organization ATCA, theatre critics have been honoring playwrights for scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City since 1977, and with the financial support of the Steinberg Trust beginning in 2000, the top award has come with a cash prize of $25,000, with checks of $7,500 each going to two more finalists. Joining Dietz in the group of finalists this year are Samuel D. Hunter for Clarkston; Qui Nguyen for Vietgone; Jonathan Norton for Mississippi Goddamn; Lynn Nottage for Sweat; and Jen Silverman for The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane. The awards will be presented April 9 at Actors Theatre of Louisville during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. For more information, visit the ATCA website.

• You may not think of the Austin Symphony as performing compositions ahead of every other orchestra on the continent, but that's just what the ASO will be doing in April. Music Director Peter Bay has programmed the North American premiere of Compassion, by the Australian composer Nigel Westlake, who created the song cycle while grieving for his son Eli after his murder at the age of 21. Bay was given a recording of the work, which features symphonic arrangements of songs by the Israeli-born musician Lior and premiered at the Sydney Opera House in 2013, and was so moved by its power that he felt compelled to put it on ASO's season and was even able to bring Lior to Austin to perform Compassion with the symphony.

But Bay also felt the message of the work was worth sharing outside the concert hall as well. To that end, ASO has partnered with the Blanton Museum of Art, the UT-Austin Division of Diversity & Community Engagement, and representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities to present an education forum, “Compassionate Conversations.” The event, to be held Tuesday, March 29 at the Blanton, will consist of a 20-minute video documentary on the creation of Compassion, followed by a panel discussion in which Bay will be joined by Jay Rubin, CEO at the Jewish Community Association of Austin; Fayruz Benyousef, founder and principal of Fayruz Benyousef Consulting; Rev. Dr. Gregory Cuéllar, professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; and Rabbi Neil Blumofe, senior rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim. Pam Owens, a facilitator from the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, will lead the panel. Prior to the 7:30pm program, visitors will be admitted to the museum for free and may join guided walking tours every 15 minutes, beginning at 6pm. Informal receptions will precede and follow the program.

Compassion will be performed Friday & Saturday, April 8 & 9, 8pm, in Dell Hall at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, visit the ASO website.

Ballet Austin certainly doesn't look 60, but when the local dance institution starts its 2016-17 season, it will be, and, well, you don't hit a milestone like that without celebrating in some special way. For BA, that's going to be a month-long trip to China, where members of the professional company will perform select ballets choreographed by Artistic Director Stephen Mills in cities around the country. Formal tour dates and locations are yet be released, but the announcement of BA's upcoming season this past week has the 60th anniversary year leading off with To China, With Love …, a program providing a look at some of the material Mills has chosen for the tour: Wolftantz and Liminal Glam. The program also includes choreographer Lar Lubovitch's ballet Dvořák Serenade.

The season-opening performances take place Sept. 23-25 in Dell Hall at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, visit the Ballet Austin website.

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Austin arts scene, Steven Dietz, Austin Symphony, Peter Bay, Ballet Austin, Stephen Mills, Nigel Westlake, Lior

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