Dance, music, theater and arts aficionados came together Sunday afternoon for a British-inspired lawn party to support Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre. The Ziggy Do party was held at The Academy, the iconic and historic Travis Heights home of Claudette and Hugh Low, to raise funds to support artists and teaching fees for Ariel's upcoming 2014 season.
Guests were also treated to an exciting sneak preview of upcoming performance The Bowie Project, which brings together dance, performance art and live music from Austin-based Bowie cover band Super Creeps.
In keeping with the British theme, guests were encouraged to wear hats and, in case they were forgotten, a selection was available for anyone to choose from.
The beautiful weather helped create a festive mood on the gorgeous grounds of The Academy. Attendees had the opportunity to roam the halls of the 1889 mansion, which has been featured in Preservation Austin’s Historic Homes and Gardens Heritage Homes Tour.
Croquet was played on the lawn while Mouthfeel DJed the party with Bowie tunes and other 70s music. In keeping with the British theme, guests were encouraged to wear hats and, in case they were forgotten, a selection was available for anyone to choose from. Light bites and themed cocktails, such as the Ziggy Stardust punch, were served.
The Bowie Project is a working title, which Ariel says will likely change before the performances begin on January 29. Working with Super Creeps and New York based performance ensemble Strike Anywhere, Ariel has created an improvisational show using soundpainting, a live composition of sign language to direct music and dance.
"We're crashing those two worlds together," Ariel says. "It's like going to see a band play, combined with dance and performance."
She came up with the idea after working with Strike Anywhere and the soundpainting concept, developed by composer Walter Thompson in the 1970s. Thompson's concept demands that artists step away from what is familiar and predictable and commit to each expressive act without knowing where it will lead.
Ariel's husband, Colin Lowry, came up with the idea to use soundpainting to "riff on anything" — a deconstruction of dance and music. Ariel then saw the Super Creeps perform and thought working with them to use David Bowie music would be the perfect combination.
"David Bowie is a master of changing identity, and that's what we're digging into here." — Andrea Ariel
"I feel like we're at a time in the world where how we want to be seen, our identity, is such an interesting subject," she said. "Bowie is a master of changing identity, and that's what we're digging into here."
As Ariel and the performers took over the patio stage to begin the preview performance of The Bowie Project, the audience didn't know what to expect. Ariel began directing the band with her signed language, as two dancers sat in chairs nearby awaiting their cue.
Soon Ariel brought them into the performance as well, in an artistic version of "Simon Says." Using the various sign commands, the band played and the dancers moved according to Ariel's directions, which included signs to stop, stutter a note or movement over and over, amplify or grow softer, even laugh out loud or begin talking on command.
The effect is a little disconcerting at first; the audience doesn't know what is happening or why. After a while, you begin to pick up on Ariel's cues, and there emerges a somewhat organized composition in the artistic chaos.
The effect is fun and whimsical, and all of the performers are along for the ride as much as the audience, in a way. They know what the commands are and follow Ariel like a hawk, but they don't know what's coming next or when. No one knows what's going to happen — not even Ariel, it seems.
The audience can also be drawn into the performance, as Ariel turns to the crowd and teaches a few simple commands: ones to laugh, hum a high or low note or dance badly.
"I'm excited to share this, because it's so much fun," Ariel said. "I want to attract a wider audience with this production, to get away from the label of 'modern dance.' I want to break that open — what we do is dance theater."