Heloise Gold takes flight

Propelled by a dream years ago, the Austin choreographer continues to create her bird dances


A few days after meeting up with choreographer Heloise Gold to chat about her upcoming dance concert, “Bird Bath & Beyond,” Gold sends me a follow-up email. She writes:

A few more birds and their qualities:
Squat Bird: meandering; demonstrative; a bit depressed; loungey
Crow Bird: ominous
Opera Bird: quirky elegant; messenger
Eagle type Bird: mysterious; spiritual; calling to the ancestors
Strut Bird: cool; chill

I’m thinking about this:
The birds around us are wild unruly delicate, living their lives alongside us. What would our lives be like without the somewhat continuous presence and soundscape of the wild birds that we co-exist with?

And a “bird fact” curiosity I just came across:  Recent research on the science of improving drones — if drones had claws they might be able to fly for longer and land in place for longer.
Heloise Bird and dancers
From left to right: Rosalyn Nasky, Kelsey Oliver, Heloise Gold and Kelly Hasandras, in rehearsal. Photo by Leon Alesi.

Gold is bird-obsessed. Almost 40 years ago, she had a dream in which a big voice told her to devote her creative energies to creating bird dances and songs.

And Gold has, more or less, done so since in a career that’s been a core part of Austin’s arts scene. “Bird Bath Beyond” and is essentially a version of the Gold’s “Bird Dream Dances & Songs” from the early 1980s. But she has made many versions of her bird repertoire over the years, performing with a variety of collaborators, adding a bird dance onto programs.

For this iteration, Gold is assembling a quartet of dancers including Kelly Hasandras, Rosalyn Nasky, Kelsey Oliver, and herself. Theater artist Natalie George is co-producing and designing the show. Collaborators for several years on intriguing movement-based performance pieces, George and Gold netted critical acclaim for “1,000 Forest Gorillas in Kansas,” a work inspired in part by a gorilla that came to Gold in a dream.

“One of my goals is to pass on the dances to a younger generation,” says Gold.

Says George:  “That invitation to us, to be a part of someone’s work, is so generous, so personal.”

Read: Natalie George sees the light

Gold’s bird dances are not direct representations of specific birds. Rather they channel the essence of birds, their particular movements, their characteristics. Birds, after all, embody a kind of primal movement. Current scientific consensus is that birds are a type of dinosaur that originated during the Mesozoic Era 66 million years ago. Their dinosaurian origin aside, birds can nevertheless do that magical thing that so many humans wish to: fly.

“Bird Bath & Beyond” will be performed at the historic Scottish Rite Theater against a video projected backdrop by artist Elizabeth Chiles whose vivid, digitally manipulated photographs offer a heightened version of trees and foliage.

Gold moved to Austin in 1978 on the advice of fellow choreographer and New Yorker Deborah Hay. Both danced in New York’s vibrant, experimental performance scene of 1970s.

“Austin was a quirky, relaxed, creative town,” Gold recalls of the city when she first arrived. “It was easy to do what you wanted to.”

Gold has taught T’ai Chi for over 30 years, co-founded the Art From the Streets projects and has collaborated with pioneering pioneer composer Pauline Oliveros on deep listening retreats, events that encourage the process of listening while fully in the moment.

A sense of play percolates in Gold’s movement vocabulary. So does a sense of discipline. Dancers and other artistic collaborators hold creative agency in Gold’s dances.

“We are listening to ourselves and to each other with and through our bodies, responding and relating as we go,” says Gold.

And just perhaps they are trying to fly.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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