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David Bowie Experience

Soundpainting Austin: David Bowie, dance and improv combine for unpredictable theatrical experience

Andrea Ariel Theater
David Bowie and dance combine for Austin's first sound painting event. Photo by Stephen Pruitt
Andrea Ariel Theater
The Andrea Ariel Theater puts on this exclusive performance. Photo by Stephen Pruitt

After a glamorous lawn party preview in November, the Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre unveiled its production of The Bowie Project at Stateside at the Paramount last weekend.

Featuring Austin-based David Bowie tribute band Super Creeps and New York City's Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble, the hybrid performance was an experimental mash-up of a live music concert with theatre and dance in the form of soundpainting, creating an exciting, unpredictable theatrical and musical experience.

Soundpainting is a composing sign language used to conduct improvised performance among musicians, actors and dancers. As the conductor, Ariel uses the language's 1,200 gestures to direct her performers, both musicians and dancers. Using physical cues, she speeds up the performers or slows them down, makes them freeze, stutter or laugh out loud. The effect is disconcerting — in a good way — keeping the audience on its toes and wondering what will happen next. It's the first time such a performance has been developed by the dance company.

"We are all pretty jazzed by the show," Ariel says. "It has been very amazing. We have really created a tight-knit ensemble who loves playing and hanging [out] together developing the work. We are all talking about what is next; we just want to keep going."

Ariel combines a live band with Soundpainting, because she believes music is something that connects us all. "The show is deeply based in the songs we are playing," she says. "The conductor and the ensemble are in an ever-changing present moment of composing, remixing and deconstructing the music of David Bowie and all we have created in dance and theatre. It was amazing to feel the room engaged and with us."

A good deal of research went into the development of The Bowie Project. Ninety percent of the language in the work is drawn directly from David Bowie quotes. Ariel says she found her own meaning through Bowie's quotes, the music he was making, and the personae he was creating at the time; it's clear that her intent was not to imitate Bowie. "We can all learn something of ourselves, our search for identity, through this journey," Ariel says.

The show was a huge success on many levels, and the after-performance reception was buzzing with conversation and energy. "Audiences raved about how much fun they had," says Ariel. "The show opened as a grand rock show might, and audiences immediately cheered as we each entered one by one in a bright light and smoke. Our audiences immediately felt part of the show."

The production was a success in another way: The Bowie Project was the company's highest ticket sales to date, meaning a wider audience for its work. "With this show, we want to reach a large and diverse audience, from dance and theater patrons to music audiences and David Bowie fans of all ages," she says.

"Many are proclaiming we must do it again, and that's what we want, too. I think this hybrid experiment is a perfect and wonderful success; mostly in that it has launched something innovative, exciting and new and the energy is buzzing around it."

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