Tag Archives: Stephen Mills

The Truth About Cats & Dogs

From cats that play dead to dogs that wear scarves, our dancers’ pets are almost as diverse as the Company members themselves:

Orlando Julius Canova
Pet:
Lia // Dog
Age:
8 years old
Lia acts about as far from 8 years old as she can get. Not only does she bound around the Ballet Austin offices with the energy of a puppy, she loves to swim and roll around in the water. When Orlando moved from Chicago to Texas with Lia, it was too hot for her to fly in the pet section of the airplane. So, instead, Orlando and his mom took a 2-day road trip down to Texas with Lia in tow. In the words of his mom, “This dog better live forever.”

Ashley Lynn Gilfix
Pets:
Samson // Dog and Desmond (Desi) // Cat
Age:
Samson is 4 years old; Desi is 8 years old
Orlando isn’t the only one who brings his dog to work: Ashley’s dog Samson is also a frequent visitor – getting treats from the front desk before running back to the locker room where he is crated during rehearsals. Ashley’s cat, Desmond, is also a performer – this big kitty loves to “sing” and is definitely the boss of the two pets.

Anne Marie Melendez & Paul Michael Bloodgood
Pet:
Cordelia (officially “Cordelia Chase Bloodgood”) // Cat
Age:
8 years old
Adopted just before Paul and Anne got married, Cordelia is more like a dog than a cat. In addition to running to the door when Paul and Anne come home, she also has a bag of tricks that includes sit/stay, shake and play dead when Paul shouts, “BANG!”\

Chelsea Renner
Pet:
Bowser // Dog
Age:
Almost 2 years old
Bowser, a huge snuggle bunny with an extreme overbite, is friends with a few of the other dancers’ dogs – particularly Samson and Stella (see the end of this post). Happy and energetic, Bowser loves to play fetch outside, but hates giving back the ball. According to Chelsea, he is definitely a mama’s boy – even if his dad disagrees!

Christopher Swaim
Pet:
Chibi // Dog
Age:
2 years old
For such a tall dancer, Chris has a very small dog. Fittingly-named, “Chibi” means “little person” in Japanese. Chris got Chibi from a local breeder, despite originally setting out to get a different dog. When Chris arrived at the breeder, however, it was Chibi who was the most interested and playful of all the puppies. Later that night, after Chris took Chibi – then only the size of an iPhone – home to his new house, she curled up on his foot and promptly passed out. Love at first cuddle.

Beth Terwilleger
Pets:
Tucker // Dog & Dudley and Scoot // cats
Age:
Tucker is almost 8 years old; Dudley and Scoot are 1.5 years old
Beth rescued Tucker almost 7 years ago during a road trip to California, and later adopted her two cats (Dudley and Scoot) to help keep Tucker company when she’s at work. Tucker is full of energy and loves to go along for bike rides with Beth in the mornings. People often mistake him for a puppy because he’s so wiggly and affectionate. Dudley and Scoot are convinced they’re dogs, too, and according to Beth they love to follow along on walks around Town Lake.

Kirby Wallis
Pet:
Stella // Dog
Age:
1.5 years old
Kirby’s dog Stella, a brindle boxer, is filled with energy and constantly has love to give (usually with slobbery kisses). A social butterfly, Stella loves trips to the off-leash dog park in Kirby and her husband’s neighborhood, as well as weekend trips to Red Bud Isle, Zilker and Turkey Creek.

Don’t miss these dancers – and the rest of our company – in our upcoming production of Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project.

Stephen Mills on Finding Inspiration

When we began talking internally about Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project, Artistic Director Stephen Mills walked us through the inception of the ballet. Read below to see how he found inspiration for his work – or in this case, how it found him.
In the life of an artist one is always searching. The search for a narrative, music, new movement language, or simply a kernel of an idea is constant and ongoing. An artist has to remain open to possibilities. Ideas rarely come while sitting behind a desk or computer. Very often the best work comes from years of collecting seemingly disparate ideas. I keep files of tear sheets from magazines of images that are interesting or provocative. Art and fashion magazines as well as newspapers contain great source material. I store away unusual colors I find from various sources. Even paint chips can become part of my hoarding. I find music I like and put it back until I find a project it might be right for. I even collect titles for dances that might not be created for years, if ever. I hold all this information in files, on my computer or iPhone, and in my mind simultaneously. For me, the idea for a dance might happen over the course of years because all the visual and aural information I’ve gathered needs one unifying, ‘ah ha’ moment to bring it together. At that point it becomes like a puzzle where I can see all the pieces, and I go about assembling them. Why it happens like that, I don’t understand.

In my full-length ballet Hamlet, the dance is divided into two acts. Act II is set in a completely white environment with two very large ski slope like structures upstage. These ‘scoops’ serve a couple of purposes: Besides being aesthetically beautiful, the structures allow for the white of the floor to carry up onto the back wall, which visually elongates the floor. Secondly, they become the ground in which the character Ophelia is buried after her death. The idea for this device came to me at the end of a flight when I noticed structures such as this at the end of the runway. I believe that in an emergency they prevent the planes from over-shooting the runway. Originally designed as safety devices, they now find themselves in a ballet. This image, photos of red flowers and plexiglass tubes came together to create that ‘ah ha’ moment; the aesthetic of the work became inevitable.

And though artists are always in search of new projects, sometimes the project seeks out the artist. Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project is an example of a work in search of an artist. In the creation of this piece I used images from my files – all of which were unrelated to the Holocaust. In developing this dance I used all the devices I’ve mentioned but brought one more element to my process of brainstorming: Memory. I spent an entire year researching the historical narrative of the Holocaust, and brought from Europe many photographs and books. Studying the ways in which the Holocaust has been represented in the past was very informative, and the ways in which loss and absence has been illuminated became important.

I have had the good fortune to spend time with many Holocaust survivors. Hearing firsthand accounts of the pain and loss people endured during this catastrophic event has left an indelible mark on my psyche. I am forever changed by this knowledge, as well as by the generosity of those who shared this intimate information. But there is no art – no enduring art – without inspiration. For me, the inspiration for this work came from Naomi Warren. A survivor of three of the most notorious death camps in history, Naomi lost nearly her entire family in the Holocaust. Naomi is inspiring because of her tenacious and resilient nature, and her positive perspective in the face of unimaginably negative knowledge is awesome. Creating this work was difficult, emotionally challenging, eye-opening and fulfilling. I have had the most profound experience of my dance making career because the inspiration for creating it came from a very spiritually connected place. I believe Naomi served the role of medium between that place and me, and obviously it will be nearly impossible to access that place again. I am no more certain of where inspiration comes from than before this project, but I now know to expect the unexpected and appreciate the opportunities when they arise.

NAT/D: Dancer Preview #3

For our third dancer preview, we asked Orlando Julius Canova to discuss what it’s like to perform in an all-male piece.

The rumor the day Bradley Shelver arrived to cast the dancers was that Bradley was going to do a ballet only using men. Since the inception of New American Talent/Dance, no choreographer has chosen to only use men. The rumors were finally put to rest when he excused all the ladies and auditioned the ten men of Ballet Austin. In the audition that ensued we were asked to yell, tumble, and push our bodies to their physical limit. I knew that when Bradley returned to choreograph on his cast of men, it would mean one thing… PAIN.

The first day Bradley returned to choreograph, he began like a racehorse out of the starting gate. His stride was swift, and his steps were confident. From day one, Bradley was incredibly organized and sure of what he wanted. Some choreographers begin to piece work together after getting to know their dancers, but Bradley had no time for that – his brain was bursting at the seams with the ballet that danced in his mind. Bradley began to set his work immediately, and within the first day, four minutes and twenty two seconds of the ballet were choreographed.

Bradley’s entire residency continued in this pace. Bradley had a schedule and no matter how grueling and difficult, he stuck to it. Every day, I went home battered and bruised both mentally and physically. After a week of floor burn, swollen knees, and bruised thighs the ballet was finished. Let me reiterate: Bradley Shelver finished his ballet in only a WEEK.

Though done in only a week,   with six sections, two solos, and even a pas de deux, the ballet does not lack for anything. I believe that the bonds of camaraderie between the men of Ballet Austin have grown stronger. The work that took place in AustinVentures StudioTheater was focused and dedicated, and because of this Bradley’s piece is filled with anxiety, tension, beauty, athleticism, grace, and strength. This piece makes me proud to be a man of Ballet Austin.

Today is the last day of Bradley Shelver’s residency. As I write this blog I am well aware of the crick in my neck, the scabs on my feet, and the pain in my muscles. I am also well aware of the satisfaction that all these ailments give me. Bradley pushed and coached the men of Ballet Austin to the brink of insanity. When we had nothing left to give, he wanted more. When the curtain goes up on Feb, the men of Ballet Austin will give the audience more than they ever knew they could.

Tickets on sale now for New American Talent/Dance.

NAT/D: Dancer Preview #1

New American Talent/Dance benefits choreographers and dancers alike. See how company dancer Beth Terwilleger learned to speak a new language.

A dance career is often too short, therefore the work that goes into it must be intense and full of passion in order to squeeze as much out of it as possible. Any chance to work with a new artist or choreographer is a gift that promises the opportunity to grow in many ways. I am lucky enough to dance for a company that not only has a director who challenges and allows his dancers to grow with his work, but one that also brings in artists to add to the richness of the company’s dancers and repertoire.

New American Talent/Dance allows for choreographers with a variety of voices and interpretations of movement to come into the world of Ballet Austin and help us grow. I feel very lucky to be a part of this project and constantly try to embrace the opportunity. With every choreographer, it is like turning into a sponge and soaking up as much as I can from the experience. Every choreographer I have worked with for NAT/D has spoken a new and different language. Some you will learn to speak better than others and some you may feel like you actually speak a little of already, but there is always a great amount of opportunity for growth.

This year I was chosen by Greg Dolbashian to be a part of his creative process and dance in his piece for NAT/D 2012. The experience of working with Greg was one that was truly unique to my dance career. Never, while growing up in a classical dance training environment, did I ever imagine I would be asked to explore the movement possibilities of dancing improvisational work, eyes closed, onstage during a performance. And this, exactly, is what Gregory asked me to do.  The improvisational work in Greg’s piece is heavily inspired by his own choreographic voice and movement style.  Greg’s language is unique and inspiring, but  it was also exceptionally challenging ; attempting to speak his language was no easy task.  Watching him move and hearing his deep understanding of movement and the emotion and the art that goes behind it allowed for me to fearlessly dive into his rehearsals. While I still feel I have a lot of work do to before I could even scrape the surface of what he is trying to pull from me as an artist, I know I have already really grown from the experience.

The beauty of a project like NAT/D is the opportunity for growth for all involved.  Not only do the dancers gain from it, but the choreographers are given a group of artists willing to explore with them and, ultimately, help them develop as well. The dancers grow, the choreographers grow, and Ballet Austin as an organization grows and benefits greatly as well. This type of support in the art world is imperative for growth, and the more we all support each other, the stronger the art world will be.

 

Tickets on sale now for New American Talent/Dance.

Dancer Holiday Wishlist

Recently we asked our Company Dancers to name one thing or two… or three… they would like for the holidays. Their answers may surprise you. Take a look to see what’s on the wish list of YOUR favorite dancer.

James Fuller:
Pyke’s Philosophers

Jordan Moser:
A flock of silly looking chickens

Preston Andrew Patterson:
A pair of custom-made Air Jordans size 11… oh yeah and peace and goodwill towards men, and all that jazz

Beth Terwilleger:
A composting system

Aara Krumpe:
Snow in Vermont so I can take my boys sledding!

Paul Michael Bloodgood:
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for Xbox 360

Anne Marie Melendez:
Cookbooks related to my new hobby… “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and “Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day” written by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. (The followups to “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”)

Ian J. Bethany:
Terry Pratchett novels, Wii games and juggling rings!

Ed Carr:
A few extra windows in my living room

Oren Porterfield:
To be free of debt

Kirby Wallis:
Warm clothes for my trip with my husband to Portland & Seattle!

Chelsea Renner:
A house. (We got it! We start moving in the day after Christmas.)

Christopher Swaim:
Another Pomeranian

Becky Johnson:
A trip to Disneyland

Michael Burfield:
A Wii and a peacoat

Orlando Julius Canova:
A red bike helmet (but a good one)

Ashley Lynn Gilfix:
A new digital camera to take photos on our African Safari Trip over the holiday break

Michelle Thompson:
Time, wine, massages and diamonds

Jaime Lynn Witts and Frank Shott:
To sleep in

Brittany Strickland:
Leg warmers

Elise Pekarek:
Cowboy boots