A site-specific performance dances through architecture and music


If performers refer to the space that separates them from an audience as the “fourth wall,” composer Catherine Davis and choreographer Michelle Thompson Ulerich would just as soon diminish it.

No, the duo are not inviting the audience to directly interact with the dancers and musicians in their upcoming collaboration, “The Illusory Impressions Project.”

Rather, by using the almost hyperintimate setting of an historic building and staging within it a roving performance, Davis and Ulerich hope their audience can experience modern dance and live chamber music in a new fashion.

The landmark-designated Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs mansion serves as the site for “Illusory Impressions.”

“The building has an ambiance, this sense of history that makes you feel like you’re a part of something else, something much larger and deeper,” says Davis, a pianist and composer with a burgeoning resume of multigenre collaborations.

“And things happen in an intimate performance space that just don’t happen in a concert hall,” Davis says. “We want to challenge people’s perception of how music and dance can be experienced.”

Built in 1931, the Georgian Revival red brick building west of the University of Texas for years has served as a meeting place for women’s civic groups and is now a popular wedding venue as well. With its gracious parlors, formal tea rooms and dining rooms, a ballroom, a library, a shaded courtyard and an elegant foyer and staircase, the mansion is hardly a typical modern performance venue.

Which is what appealed to Davis and Ulerich.

“I love intimate settings” for dance, Ulerich says. “I love being so close up you can see the sweat on the dancer, the eye contact between dance partners, the subtle shifts in movement.”

For the 14 years she was a company member of Ballet Austin, Ulerich performed dance that was intentionally writ large for big stages. She retired from the company at the end of the last season to relocate to New York City, where her husband took a job. Since landing in the Big Apple, Ulerich has embarked on several indie choreography projects.

Yet, she and Davis had their ideas pinned to staging a site-specific performance at the Women’s Club site more than a year ago.

“Illusory Impressions” takes place in five different rooms in the mansion. In each room a unique configuration of dancers and musicians will perform a short dance.

In the music parlor, Ulerich partners with Ed Carr, a former colleague from Ballet Austin, while cellists Jen Mulhern and Henna Chou play.

In the gallery, Davis and Ballet Austin dancer Oliver Greene-Crammer present a particularly intimate piece with Davis at a grand piano.

On the balcony, dancers Magdalena Jarkowiec and Felicia McBride appear with pianist Hollie Thomas.

And in the mansion’s courtyard, a bathtub filled with water becomes the stage, so to speak, for an alternating pair of dancers.

Audience members will be invited to view each vignette in whatever order they like as they move from space to space. The final and fifth piece will be performed in the mansion’s large ballroom after the individual vignettes are over.

Says Davis: “We’re hoping, by the end, whatever preconceived assumptions or habits of watching dance and (chamber) music people might have, maybe they’ll discover some new way of observing (performance). There are so many different ideas that can be impressed upon you. Who knows?”



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