Oren Porterfield in Performa/Dance’s Midsummer Offerings.
Photo by Anne Bloodgood.
When Jennifer Hart founded Performa/Dance in 2014 with Ballet Austin dancer Edward Carr, she wanted a platform not only to show her own work, but to feature work by other local artists, as well as innovative national choreographers.
“What was important to me was to do other people’s work, too,” says Hart. “When I go to a show, I love to see mixed bills, which is why I didn’t call the company ‘Jennifer Hart Dance.”
Since moving to Austin 10 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hart has developed relationships with numerous local dance-makers, not the least of which are connections she’s made through Ballet Austin, where she has taught full-time since moving to Texas.
Running June 23-24 at Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheater, Midsummer Offerings: Three Dances is the third annual summertime performance Hart has produced under the Performa/Dance name.
Her piece, Fellow Travelers, is something she’s been noodling on since last fall. “I got very stirred up by last year’s election,” she says.
“The term ‘fellow travelers’ tends to be associated with people who travel along the same path together. This piece is set in a train station, and something big has happened, we aren’t sure what. People are trying to leave town all at the same time…I tend to like to work in stories. I have done abstract work, but even then it tends to have a thematic overlay.”
Hart, who was a ballerina with companies Ballet of the Dolls and Minnesota Dance Theater for most of her dance career, choreographs from a ballet base, with theatrical influences shining through.
“I like gestural movements,” she says, noting that she pays particular attention to the dancers’ arms and hands when choreographing—something that tends to lend her pieces a quirky air.
“The movement language has to reflect the story. There can’t be anything superfluous. I like people to understand my dances, and not to .have to ask, ‘What was that about?’”
Part of the Performa/Dance mission is to invite women and minority artists to show their work.
Former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Uri Sands is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based African American choreographer whose work Hart has wanted to bring to Austin for some time. The Princess Grace Award winner will be creating a new, as-of-yet-unnamed work on six local dancers for Midsummer Offerings.
“His choreography requires a high level of technique from the dancers,” says Hart, who noted his style flows from a classical ballet base and fuses modern with African movement.
Rounding out the evening will be Austin-based Magdalena Jarkowiec’s Overseas Phone Call, 1987, a tribute to the landline conversations she and her family had while split between socialist-era Poland and the U.S.
Born in Poland, Jarkowiec immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland in 1983 as a young child with her mother and sister. Her father and brother followed three months later, but ended up returning to Poland in 1984 after her parents got divorced.
“This piece is about distance and separation, but also this one, seemingly magical way we could communicate,” says Jarkowiec. “Our voices were somehow carried over something material.”
Jarkowiec is also an accomplished costume designer, so for her, costuming is never an afterthought. In Overseas Phone Call, 1987, the four dancers will wear felt, sculptural jackets that are connected, tying them together from opposite sides of the stage.
“I don’t think of it as costuming. I think of it as one of the parameters of the piece,” she said, adding, “I oftentimes design costumes that are limiting in some capacity—in this case, the dancers are actually connected—because it forces me to be more creative.”
As for the movement, she says it’ll be “jam-packed”: athletic and diverse, with strong, sweeping motions, all set to music by Steve Reich and trumpeter Craig Pederson, as well as whistled versions of popular songs.
Hart sees Performa/Dance’s annual summertime performance as a way for Austin’s dance community—dancers and audiences alike—to get exposure to new choreographers.
Hart adds, “I keep my eye out for interesting choreographers, and here we have two of them.”
—CLAIRE CHRISTINE SPERA