- By Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
One of the many advantages of living in a city with a first-rate university that includes a major fine arts program is access to a wealth of touring dance.
During the past 30-plus years that I’ve been around here, the University of Texas has imported just about every significant dance company that tours the United States. Not so much ballet — why bother when we already have Ballet Austin? — but we’ve been treated to top-notch modern, postmodern and global dance galore.
It doesn’t come cheap to UT’s presenter, Texas Performing Arts, even though most of these companies don’t travel with truckloads of scenery or special effects. Yet it does take a lot of people to fill a stage with movement, music, costumes and lights, plus the occasional spray of multimedia dazzle.
PLAN AHEAD: Austin’s 2017-2018 arts season.
UT’s dance mini-season starts Sept. 29-30 with two performances by Abraham.In.Motion at the mid-sized McCullough Theatre. From the first time I caught choreographer Kyle Abraham’s videos — can we pause briefly to genuflect before YouTube, Vimeo, etc. for making dance instantly accessible to anyone with a digital device? — I’ve longed to see his youthful, eclectic and unpredictable company live.
Much of what we otherwise know about Abraham comes from reliable sources such as Dance Magazine, which named him one of the “25 to Watch” in 2009 and has described his work as “elastic and electric, luxuriantly rippling, poetically arranged with moments of perfect stillness that arrive amid splashes of expression.”
How’s that for dance description?
“Live! The Realest MC,” which the group presents in Austin, was inspired by Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” and deals with hip-hop celebrity as well as gender roles in the African-American community. Bonus points to UT for putting this show in the more intimate McCullough.
This cycle of touring dance does not return to UT until Feb. 1, when the often humorous, always entertaining Ezralow Dance returns to Bass. Ezralow is a multimedia showman whose work appeared in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” and Julie Taymor’s movie “Across the Universe.”
It’s contemporary dance with a flair for the theatrical and for reaching across cultural boundaries, a job well suited to dance. Ezralow was an original dancer and choreographer for the breakthrough Momix group, and a founding member and director of ISO Dance. He’s won numerous dancemaker awards and says about a piece that he presents in Austin: “In ‘Open.’ I have purposefully chosen to choreograph to a familiar classical score. I want the familiarity of the music to act like an old friend who welcomes you into a new place to explore, play, rediscover and reinvent.”
When Texas Performing Arts director Kathy Panoff breathlessly described the visceral pleasures of seeing the next group, Che Malumbo, during a 2017-2018 season preview party thrown last spring, I marked March 27, 2018, on my mental calendar for their Bass debut. Founded by Giles Brinas, this all-male group combines drumming, singing, rhythmic stomping and precision footwork.
The Malambo tradition grew out of the competitive duels of Argentinian gauchos that tested agility, strength and dexterity. At some point, it integrated “zapeto,” a “fast-paced footwork inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses,” according to the company’s materials. “Malambo also features the drumming of traditional Argentine bombos and whirling boleadoras, a throwing weapon made up of intertwined cords and weighted with stones.”
The much-loved and never pretentious Hubbard Street Dance Chicago returns to Bass Concert Hall on April 11. During its four decades of existence, Hubbard Street has provided quite a few highlights from the genres of jazz, modern, ballet and theatrical dance.
Led by Glenn Edgerton, it’s very much associated with dance for the everyday audience, especially in its hometown. Amazingly, it performs year-round, in part because it tours a lot — already 44 states and 19 countries.
Hubbard Street grew out of the Lou Conte Dance Studio in 1977, when Conte gathered an ensemble of four dancers to perform in senior centers across Chicago. It continues to provide high quality dance therapy, including movement for Parkinson’s Disease patients, and education for all ages.
Let me tell you, there’s plenty of Austin dance to see, too. But for a window onto the wider world of dance, it’s hard to beat the selections that drop by Bass and McCullough.