Some Thoughts on Ballet Austin’s “Mozart Project”

This game writer was at the ballet last weekend. A bit of a change of pace from puttering around in the Battlefield 3 beta.

And guess what? It was magnificent. Or at least the middle piece was, a collaboration between Austin composer Graham Reynolds and choreographer Stephen Mills called “Though the Earth Gives Way.” Set design by Michael B. Raiford deserves a shout-out too, as does the entire ensemble of dancers, who put out incredibly athletic performances into a kinetic, tension-filled, dramatic piece that elicited a standing ovation from the entire audience — the only performance of the night to do so. The primary instruments in the entire composition were a single violin and a single cello, looped to perfection by Reynolds and his able mixmaster Buzz Moran. Sure, the costuming was a little bit too stereotypically Germanic (anyone remember Mike Myers’ Sprockets skits?), but overall this was pure wordless astonishment. Just the music alone was muscular and fresh enough to feel like a work of national import.

The opening piece, “Wolftanzt,” though capably danced, especially by prima Anne Marie Melendez, seemed to be almost a palate-setter for the more innovative work to follow.

And the evening ended with a bit of a disappointment — DJ Spooky’s (Paul D. Miller) “Echo Boom,” which seemed awkward and closed in comparison to “Earth.” I give Spooky all the credit in the world for the motion graphics technique demonstrated in his text-heavy background visuals, but I must tear it all away for the timing and presentation. Rather than provoke thought with the text, he ran it fast and shrouded it in visual noise, giving us only the airs of philosophical thought without any of the meat. I also have to question Mills’ choreography in spots, where the booming, thunderous power of the dubsteb sound was minimized by fairly static, conventional paired movements.

In the post-performance Q&A, Spooky described his rationale behind some of the GPS coordinates and exotic photographed locales in his piece, which I appreciated in the same way I would appreciate someone’s home movies. I give him credit for setting out with high ambitions into new and unfamiliar media, and I encourage him to continue to develop his methods for visual and auditory communication. It’s not easy.

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