The Urgency of Making New Dance

With her latest dance, Kathy Dunn Hamrick loops in the movies


Kathy Dunn Hamrick’s favorite phrase of late is “let’s go.”

“I feel like my desire to make new work is really urgent right now,” says the award-winning choreographer, who next season will see her company, Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance, hit its 20th season. “I want to go forward, not back.”

Forward is “Be Still, My Heart” Hamrick’s newest dancework, a 55-minute piece performed, in the round, in Long Center’s intimate Rollins Studio Theater.

Creating dance to be performed with the audience surrounding, leaves no room, literally, for choreographic hiding.

“I’m trying my best to get people to see, really see, dance,” says Hamrick. “Creating movement that’s seen in the round means the movement becomes very dense and multi-faceted. You can hear small movements, you can hear the dancers breathing.”

For years Hamrick has been collaborating with lighting and production designer Stephen Pruitt, and for “Be Still, My Heart,” the two devised a strategy for the dancers to carry handheld lights. Unlikely body angles will be illuminated, surprising spots of the stage awash in light. Momentary stories will emerge, briefly, in the dance.

If there is never an explicit narrative to Hamrick’s work, there is always a trajectory with a beginning and an ending, and a sense that you have been somewhere in between. And that trajectory has an origin for the choreographer, an inspirational starting point. For “Be Still, My Heart” Hamrick tapped into her love of movies and films — the arresting visuals of a well-composed shot, the subtleties of an artfully paced-out scene.

Hamrick’s dance is filmic, rather than directly about film.

Hamrick is comfortable with creative ideas running parallel or in tandem, or in any case not in a straight line. Ditto the work of her collaborators. Pruitt’s designs are created concurrently of Hamrick’s choreography. Likewise the score and soundscape created by Drew Silverman, which includes conventional music and aural affects like the sounds of sticks breaking, the dancers each given a sonic stamp their own.

Hamrick says it’s a bit like Google Maps when it offers you multiple routes to the same destination.

“I’m comfortable with them going their way, and me going my way, and us layering it together as we meet in the same place,” she says.

Certainly it’s an artistic strategy that’s proved successful. Hamrick’s fresh, smart yet sometimes poignant choreography has netted a slew of accolades and Hamrick a spot in the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.

Not that she’s looking back on all that.

“I like wide open possibilities,” she says.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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