PerformaDance: Ballets choreographed by women, about women

Ballets choreographed by women, about women and their artistic experience


Art is often art’s favorite subject matter.

And while “Artist and Muse,” the new dance concert by PerformaDance, takes up that tradition, it departs from it too.

Featured are Jennifer Hart’s “Camille: A Story of Art and Love” and Wynn Fricke’s “Two Fridas” — ballets created by women about the artistic experience of women.

[su_pullquote]”Artist and Muse”
8 p.m. June 1 & 2
AustinVentures Studio Theater, Ballet Austin

Both were both created before the #MeToo movement emerged last year.

Hart’s “Camille,” which tells the fraught story of sculptor Camille Claudel, debuted in 2016, garnering considerable recognition for Performa, the company Hart started four years ago in collaboration with Ed Carr, a Ballet Austin company dancer. (Hart is the curriculum director for Ballet Austin Academy’s lower school.)

Fricke’s “Two Fridas” debuted in 2000 by Minnesota Dance Theater.

And yes the #MeToo efforts are necessary, Hart says. But her desire to tell the stories of women through the medium of contemporary ballet have been  a constant.

“Stories are what connect us and what we look for, what I look to, for understanding. And the stories that women have to tell, especially women artists, are worth hearing.”

Ed Carr and Oren Portfield in rehearsal for “Camille.”

Perhaps even more especially in the world of ballet where traditionally women are beheld as the artistic objects and muses, while men are the creators.

“It’s just immediately different when a female choreographer holds the agency in the making of a ballet,” Hart says. “Women tend to be more collaborative. And we know what it’s like to dance in point shoes.”

In its short time, Performa has netted critical buzz and several local awards for its sharp, refreshing choreographic vocabulary. “Camille” stars Oren Porterfield, who just recently retired from Ballet Austin after nine seasons with Ballet Austin. Porterfield originated the role of Camille.

Though only very recently celebrated in her own right as an artist, Camille Claudel was in her overshadowed in her lifetime by her lover Auguste Rodin, the most famous sculptor of his day. Claudel’s own groundbreaking sculpture startled critics, and after her relationship with Rodin disintegrated, she lived and worked in increasing isolation. Eventually, her family had her committed to an asylum involuntarily.

Hart’s 35-minute ballet, set to Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden,” feature Carr as Rodin and four “sculptures,” dancers who are at times manipulated by the two main characters.

Fricke’s “Two Fridas” is inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting of the same name, the double self-portrait Kahlo created in 1939, the same year she divorced Diego Rivera.

With original music by Carl Witt, “Two Fridas” features intriguing partnership work by its two female dancers and is an abstraction of Kahlo’s lifelong struggle with pain from injuries sustained when she was young. It will be performed by guest artists Washington Ballet’s  Francesca Dugarte and Anais Di Filippo of Venezuela’s Ballet Teresa Carreño. Both Dugarte and Di Filippo hail from Venezuela.

“I like a range and breadth of choreographic voices,” says Hart of her practice of including work to enrich each production. “It creates an important creative dialogue.”

And creates stories.

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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