'Old Austin' artists warm up one of the city's most unique holiday cabarets
One of Austin's most diverse, artistically provocative holiday shows is warming up for its third annual run.
Like most good things, it literally started underground; the weird, jazz tap alternative to Ballet Austin's upright (and popular) The Nutcracker. Now, Tapestry Dance is onto a new tradition that will likely show audiences something they've never seen before, while remaining in the warmth that brings them to holiday shows to begin with.
Bringing together tap dance, classical Indian dance, spoken word, live painting, and more, The Precious Present – Listen will run for three performances only, from December 16-17 at the Austin Ventures Studio Theatre.
"The artists choose a piece of music that means something to them with regard to [listening]," explains Tapestry director Acia Gray, tugging the thread through the eclectic lineup. "Does it mean listening to each other? Does it mean listening to the world? Does it mean literally listen to the piece of music? Is it focusing on something or not focusing on something?"
This is a different theme than the inaugural performance in 2021 followed; the fittingly self-definitive question, "Who am I?"
Pamela HartPhoto courtesy of Tapestry Dance
That showcase presented each artist unpretentiously, on a mostly undecorated floor-level stage. There were no breaks between each act, the artists flowing graciously in and out of the performance space with thoughtfully improvised interactions. (Gray reminded me in our interview that one of my favorite parts of the show — a tender duet between a jaunty jazz dancer and a grounded folk dancer — happened during one of these liminal interactions.)
The artists, most of them returning, seem to have found some answers to the original question in the austerity of the first performance. Since then, the accompanying ensemble has shrunk from 12 musicians to three; This show is more culturally rich than financially so, although this year it is cosponsored by Women In Jazz, and supported by the City of Austin and the Texas Commission on the Arts. It also introduced strobe lights and other flashy stage enhancements in its second year, but has cut back again to adapt to a new space.
"It seems like I keep returning back to simplicity," says Gray. "And these artists have taught me that we are not — they are not bigger than themselves. And we're enough. And as long as we stay true to ourselves, and in the space, and in the precious present, we make a difference."
Anu NaimpallyPhoto courtesy of Tapestry Dance
- Austin Arts Hall of Fame Inductee Anuradha Naimpally, showcasing classical Indian dance
- Austin Arts Hall of Fame Inductee Zell Miller III, reciting spoken word
- Jun “Sunny” Shen brings in Sharon Marroquin, presenting the show's first official duet
- Olivia Chacon, showcasing flamenco
- Co-founder of Women in Jazz Pamela Hart, singing jazz
- Denisha Adriana, singing jazz
- Premiere member of the Austin Arts Hall of Fame Acia Gray, showcasing jazz tap
- Siobhan Alexis, showcasing jazz tap
- Ami Plasse, creating live digital artworks
- Accompaniments by jazz musicians Austin Kimble on piano, Dylan Jones on bass, and Masumi Jones on drums
Plasse is a recent addition as of 2022, contributing a new element entirely to the song-and-dance showcase. The artist will draw each presentation, live, and display a sped-up version on a screen between acts. Shen, a returning dancer since the beginning, is also innovating once again; His choreography the first year was so avant-garde it would be difficult to describe it just as dance. Last year's concept was actually his first duet with the show — but it was with a doll he brought to life.
Jun “Sunny” ShenPhoto courtesy of Tapestry Dance
Gray's tap solo, in many ways the zenith of the performance, is still in the works. It'll be one of the last things she nails down. Rather than treating herself as the featured performer, she hopes her position will tie together everything that comes before, no matter how improvisational. And much of that trust to leave it to the last minute comes from working with seasoned artists.
"I hate to sound old," Gray preambles. "It's like, just grasping to the Austin that we know, that we don't want to have disappear. Whether it's the Paramount Theater — please don't tear down the Paramount Theater — [or], for those of us that remember, why did you [close] Threadgill's? ... Cities have to change. But there's a magic in the people ... that are still here, that really have helped to draw the fabric and color of the city that people are moving to."
Acia GrayPhoto courtesy of Tapestry Dance
There will be three performances of The Precious Present – Listen: Saturday, December 16, at 2 and 8 pm; and Sunday, December 17, at 2 pm. Tickets (starting at $35) are available at tapestry.org.