If the dance works, operas, and plays in this list have one thing in common, it’s that they all skillfully balance the subtle and the spectacular. Presented in just the past six months, they are proof that as the arts in Austin continue to return to normalcy, they do so bolstered by no shortage of talent or creativity.
Below, in no particular order, are seven stand out pieces that as the year ends, fill me with excitement for what 2023 will bring.
Penfold Theatre’s “A War of the Worlds”
Reimagining the titular famed radio broadcast with Orson Welles and his Mercury theatre performers as a troupe of Black actors, playwright Jarrett King’s ambitious script tackles the power of performance and mass media, culminating with hostility in the studio and a visit from aliens. This world premiere production combined alternate history, meta-theatrical moments and powerful performances to create an edge-of-your-seat drama probing artistic ethics.
“Gentle Our Driftless Caravan”
Produced by En Route Productions, and performed on Rain Lily Farm where the audience sat on large wooden farm spools and seats made from pallets, this new site-specific dance work by Blipswitch felt special, intimate, and like a unique product of Austin. When Ia Ensterä’s water feature turned on, and the dancers wove across this line of falling water, it elevated the beautiful simplicity of the choreography.
Glass Half Full Theatre’s “Yamael Cucuy”
Combining the worlds of the living and the dead (in this case the nine-layered Aztec underworld Mictlan), this suspenseful and touching original play was both spectacular and spectral. It told the story of a young teenage girl haunted by creatures from Mexican folklore and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents with incredible visuals, from the opening shadow puppetry sequence to the larger than life puppet of child snatching El Viejo.
“…but you could’ve held my hand”
The student performers in the Theatre and Dance department at the University of Texas who starred in this play brought heart and poignancy to the piece. Flexibly portraying their characters at ages ten, fifteen, eighteen and into their thirties, they shared an emotionally real story about lives full of challenges but sustained by friendship.
Ballet Austin’s “The Taming of the Shrew”
This revival of one of Stephen Mills’ great Shakespeare ballets was a joy to watch, from the beautiful costumes to the expressive physical comedy sequences. Grappling with the status of women through choreography, the dancers made this familiar story as relevant as ever.
Valoneecia Tolbert’s “Tales of A Blerd Ballerina”
Valoneecia Tolbert’s choreopoem at the Vortex seamlessly integrated dance, music and humor into a memoir-esque one woman show. Tackling the struggles of growing up while hemmed in by expectations of conformity, Tolbert’s performance was rooted in joy, and referenced her own Austin based girlhood.
Austin Opera’s “The Barber of Seville”
Everything about this production of Rossini’s beloved comic opera just gelled, from Emmett O’Hanlon’s unforgettable “Largo al Factotum” as Figaro to Count Almaviva’s extremely silly hippie music instructor disguise. The highly patterned 60s inspired sets and vibrant costumes formed a delightful vision of Spain that served as an energetic setting for this romantic farce. Brava, Bravissimo.