Best of Austin arts in 2015: The fresh and forward-thinking

Freshness and originality distinguished the best of Austin’s arts offerings in 2015. New and original theater, dance, music and art proved the talents of locally based creators as well as those arts leaders who thought big and thought forward.

Art that went outside

The University of Texas brought a new landmark to its campus with Nancy Rubin’s sculpture “Monochrome for Austin,” an improbably graceful cluster of recycled aluminum canoes. At Laguna Gloria, Tom Friedman’s 33-foot tall elongated figure “Looking Up” is a poetic, winsome and modern new icon for the historic lakeside site.

Waller Creek Conservancy’s “Creek Show” lit up a forgotten stretch of the downtown creek with inventive, delightful light-art installations and brought out the crowds. And though some of the pop-up public art projects in the city’s “Tempo” efforts were better than others, it’s the experimentation and sense of play that counts.

Sharp new plays by Austin writers

WithAm I White?,” Adrienne Dawes brilliantly navigated the complexities surrounding race politics and racial identity. Hannah Kenah’s “Everything Is Established” proved that literate comedic absurdism is alive and well in Austin. And with Cenicienta,” Caroline Reck and Rupert Reyes gave the story of Cinderella a brilliant, and bilingual, modernization.

Expressive new dance

Ballet Austin’s Stephen Mills collaborated with composer Graham Reynolds to smartly refigure a modernist classic with “Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty and the Beast.” For Ballet Austin II, Nick Kepley did seemingly the impossible with his “Season of Innocence” — re-imagine Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials, “The Crucible,” as a fresh, relevant ballet that was set to an original score by Austin composer Steve Parker.

Modern dancemaker Kathy Dunn Hamrick enlisted Line Upon Line Percussion for her layered and nuanced “More Than One Complication.” And by resurrecting rarely performed early modern dance masterpieces, Shay Ishii and her company illuminated choreographic gems nearly lost to time.

The sounds of new music

Texas Performing Arts led the charge to commission the talented young composer Nico Muhly to write “How Little You Are,” a choral piece based on texts from diaries of Texas pioneer women. The New Music Co-op went for a stretch, literally, inviting Ellen Fullman to return with her Long String Instrument, a 100-foot wonder for which Austin composer Travis Weller composed music. And Steve Parker paid an inventive and audience-delighting homage to Austin traffic with “Traffic Jam,” a participatory piece for instruments ranging from pedicabs to wheels to car horns by the dozens.

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