Potent Partnerships

IMAGE ABOVE: Jenny Franckowiak and Andrew Coronado in Man-Made Man, choreographed by Amber Ortega-Perez and a collaboration with Jenny Franckowiak. Photo by Steven DaLuz.

It’s February, the love month. As much as I would like to regale you with tales of how love has affected the cultural landscape of Texas, that will have to wait until I leave the State. So let me rant on a safer subject—artistic chemistry. Why do artists return to the same collaborators so often? Something must be working. I let the artists tell me.

It’s the questions that align Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds and choreographer and Forklift Dance founder Allison Orr. Reynolds has worked with Richard Linklater, DJ Spooky, Austin Symphony Orchestra and Rude Mechs, who are using his score right now for Stop Hitting Yourself, running at Lincoln Center’s LCT3 festival in New York through Feb. 23. Reynolds has created several scores for Orr, including her most recent large-scale work, PowerUp, which featured the linemen and power trucks of Austin Energy. “Over the course of many projects, Allison and I have developed our process to the point where communication is more fluid and ideas come more easily,” says Reynolds. “With each project the first questions are similar: what should the music say about this group of people? What will the instrumentation be and how will that affect the audience’s perception of the piece? What is our arc and what moment does the whole piece work towards? At first questions like this are difficult to answer but the deeper into the process we get the clearer things get and the faster things move. Some solutions are simple: the perceived inelegance of trash trucks was contrasted with the beauty of violin and cello. For others it’s more complicated. While power linemen do incredible things, most of them happen at slow speeds. For PowerUP, pacing became the biggest challenge. Always keeping an eye towards the big picture helps resolve these issues.”

Santry Rush in Stark Naked Theatre’s production of The Good Thief. Photo by Gabriella Nissen.
Santry Rush in The Good Thief, directed by John Tyson, through Feb 15 at Stark Naked Theatre. Photo by Gabriella Nissen.

For the Houston actor and director team Santry Rush and John Tyson, it’s about trust. Rush met the legendary Alley Theatre company member during the run of  A Christmas Carol back in 2002.  When Tyson gave Rush the script for Conor McPherson’s one-man show, The Good Thief,  a story of one man’s redemptive journey from the criminal underworld, they both knew it was the right material, with Tyson as  director and Rush as “The Man”. The team gets a second go at this play at Stark Naked Theatre, which runs through Feb. 15 at Studio 101. “John is very intentional about giving me ownership of the show,” says Rush. “He makes plenty of recommendations, but in the end, he asks me to choose the way the play gets performed. I really admire John, and there are infinite things I learn from him each day. John has helped develop my sense of taste. He is great at helping me see the importance of subtlety and nuance when it comes to art.  I’m really lucky to have him as an influence. I’m more particular than ever when it comes to what I perform in, but if John has an idea, it’s going to be a ‘yes’ from me.”

Tony Tucci has been designing lights for Ben Stevenson’s choreography since 1969, when they were both at Harkness Ballet. Tucci worked with Stevenson for 12 years at Houston Ballet, and continues at Texas Ballet Theater in Dallas and Fort Worth. It’s clear that they have developed an effortlessly fluid means of communication. “Discussions about specific lighting are minimal, although we might have conversations about overall feeling for the dance. Sometimes the discussions would happen on a walk along the studio hallways,” says Tucci. “Probably the most challenging was a work called The Lady in Waiting. It was a new work, new music, new scenery and basically a full-length ballet and musical drama all in one. Also it was my first time to work with automated lighting… He was amenable to trying this new tool out. I do what I do freely.”

Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible defines San Antonio-based dance artists Jenny Franckowiak and Amber Ortega-Perez’s working relationship. Their most successful collaboration was Man-Made Man, which Ortega-Perez created for the McNay Museum in response to the sculpture exhibit, Human Face and Form, where Franckowiak lent her aerial expertise to Ortega-Perez’s response to the sculptural work. “Amber has incredible vision,” says Franckowiak. “She has a way of explaining and demonstrating exactly what she is looking for.  Her vision sometimes goes beyond what is humanly possible, but I’m there to make it work how she wants it to. She actually introduced me to aerial silks. If it weren’t for her dragging me to our first class, I don’t think I ever would have tried this art form.”