Ballet Austin’s Sensational Spring

Ballet Austin in Stephen Mills’s Kai.
Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Ballet Austin Dancers Jaime Lynn Witts and Frank Shott in Stephen Mills’s Kai. Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Ballet Austin has a blockbuster spring season ahead, launching with Masters of Dance Feb. 16-18 at the Long Center. The program features Shade, a world premiere by one of today’s most exciting dancemakers, Pam Tanowitz; In Creases by ballet powerhouse choreographer Justin Peck; and Stephen Mills’s Kai. Next up is Exit Wounds, a world premiere by Mills, commissioned by Beverly Dale, April 6-8. The season closes with family favorite Peter Pan, May 11-13. Mills visited with A + C editor Nancy Wozny to discuss this flurry of activity.

Your season goes into full swing during the spring months, so it feels like a great time to catch up. With Masters of Dance you are bringing Pam Tanowitz back, but this time for a world premiere. With her minimalist kinetic wit, she is one of my favorite choreographers working today. What drew you to her work?

I’m a huge fan of Pam’s work. Her genius is that she is able to take simple gestures and elements to make beautiful, spare, and complex works. For me it’s always exciting. And I believe we’re the first ballet company in the country to commission her work. She deserves to be recognized.

Justin Peck is all the rage right now and dancers just love performing his work. Why did you pick this work?

Of course, Justin is a choreographer on an upward trajectory. His is a fresh voice in the sphere of ballet. In Creases is an early work that utilizes the music of Philip Glass. Maybe I think of it as our Peck starter kit? I don’t know… I really love this small chamber work and hope to acquire more of his work for our repertoire.

You are in the Master’s mix too. Tell us about Kai.

Kai is a work I created around 2007 which is made to the music of John Cage. Kai is a Hawaiian word meaning water. The music is played on two prepared pianos. While it’s piano music, it sounds almost completely like percussion instruments with a Polynesian feel. The dance is in three parts with a central duet of a seductive nature. The costumes are by a Houston designer named Monica Guerra and she’s created a beautiful design.

Ballet Austin in Pam Tanowitz’s Early That Summer.
Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood.

What ideas are swirling around to bring Exit Wounds to the stage?

Over the past year I’ve often been reminded of the words of Winston Churchill, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” Exit Wounds is a work that tells three personal stories where I had the opportunity to witness acts of courage so profound that my conceptions of life, love and death were forever changed. I think that though it feels like the world is spinning out of control we can take comfort knowing that the world has always survived because there have always been more warriors than cowards. I hope this work encourages people to acknowledge that even small gestures of courage matter and that we must not be afraid to take a stand.

There are many Peter Pan ballets. Why did you choose Paul Vastering’s version?

Peter Pan is a wonderful story and Paul’s version is lovely. The costume and scenic design is amazing and this work will end the season in a positive and optimistic way.