Magic vision in Ballet Austin’s “Magic Flute”

Stephen Mills’ Magic Vision

~posted By KMFA mid-day announcer, Dianne Donovan

Once again, Austin audiences enjoyed a veritable feast for the eyes (and ears) courtesy of Stephen Mills. In his most ambitious project to date, the Artistic Director and choreographer of Ballet Austin tackled Mozart’s The Magic Flute with nary a singer nor a supertitle in sight. As if setting Mozart’s great opera in a different medium wasn’t enough of a challenge, Mills added something very unusual to the mix; he added shadow puppetry. When I heard about this project, I thought that it could go one of two ways. It went this way — beautifully, that is. The shadows provided scary monsters, thoughtful asides, as well as interesting and almost instant set changes.

At times the dancers would interact with actual shadow puppets and other times they would team up with shadow dancers from the other side of the screen. ShadowLight Productions of San Francisco created and executed the shadow images. This was more than visual trickery, it was a true integration of forms that enhanced the production. Superimposed over this grey world were some of the loveliest, most colorful costumes I’ve seen on any stage. Costume designer Susan Branch Towne’s exotic birds, when set in motion, were positively kaleidoscopic and the priests’ white uniforms shimmered luminously.

Austin’s Donald Grantham provided a reduced score (sans vocals), well performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, under Maestro Peter Bay’s fine direction.

another one of the drawings of the costumes for Magic Flute

Of course mirrors and lights aren’t enough to carry such a production. As I’ve come to expect, Stephen Mills’ inventive and elegantly flowing choreography is sometimes spiked with truly comedic gestures. All of the dancers did a marvelous job of incorporating so many elements into their performance. Ashley Lynn Giffix’s Pamina made me wish that I had nagged my parents a little more forcefully for ballet lessons when I was youngster.

Once again, Stephen Mills “raises the bar” (I couldn’t resist) on what is possible in the world of dance. This production was sooo Austin, soooo Stephen Mills.

If missed the production and would like to see more of the images and costumes, please visit Ballet Austin’s blog.

~posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA mid-day announcer and host of the show, Classical Austin (Wednesday evenings at 8pm).

Pianos in the Park, Part 2

In response to the blog post I posted about the pianos stationed around Austin last month, I received a nice email from a KMFA listener and musician, Aragorn Eissler, about a multi-media project he created that surrounds the Play Me I’m Yours piano installation around downtown Austin. He told me that he composed a series of nine piano preludes and then performed them in one circuit on his bicycle on the hike and bike trail.

SO, basically, Mr. Eissler composed a short piece of music for each location, then put on his tuxedo, grabbed his video camera, and set off on his bike to perform each one.  The result is a charming group of videos with lovely music in the foreground, with chirping birds and mopeds and the Austin skyline in the background. You don’t usually get that kind of Austin ambience in a concert hall….

On his webpage he says that throughout the day, “Austinites were very friendly. It wasn’t strange at all to see someone playing live music downtown, but riding a bike in a tux down the hike and bike trail earned me some sideways glances!”

Here’s the link to watch all his videos:

Here’s one of the pieces (all of them are under 3 minutes each):

Thanks for sharing these with us, Ara!

~ posted by Alison @ KMFA  🙂

A Resplendent Gala: Austin Symphony Orchestra’s 100th Birthday Gala Concert

~ posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA mid-day announcer

 A splendid time was had by all at the Austin Symphony Orchestra’s 100th Birthday Gala Concert.

The lawn of the Long Center became the city’s living room, as folks without tickets set up blankets and canvas chairs to enjoy the simulcast on the big screen of this sold-out show.

Inside, Dell Hall was packed to its beautiful rafters. For the first half of the performance, Maestro Peter Bay selected music from the original A.S.O. program of a century ago. The orchestra played part of the Ballet Égyptien by Alexander Luigini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony no. 28.

The second half of the program included the special guest for the night, Itzhak Perlman. He performed the much-loved Bruch Violin Concerto that had the crowd on its feet instantly after that last note. Mr. Perlman came back for several bows before literally and figuratively “throwing in the towel.”

The orchestra capped the evening with Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” with another subtle nod to A.S.O. history: “Pines” was the last piece that the orchestra played in its old home of Bass Concert Hall. The orchestra seemed to be at the top of its game throughout, and there were many smiles from the musicians during and after the concert.

I should mention that before the performance, the orchestra announced its 2011-2012 season, which will include classical superstar violinist, Joshua Bell, as well as locally based greats, Anton Nel and Bion Tsang. After the performance the audience was on the deck to enjoy cake, drinks and a special light/music show wherein the Long Center’s Walls became the canvas to the shapes and colors. (Fireworks were to follow but due to the dangerously dry and windy conditions they had to be cancelled. Too bad, but it was a wise decision.)  All of the audience members received a complimentary commemorative book.

Between the fine performances and the magic in the air, many of us did not want the evening to end. Cheers to all involved in the past, today and in the future.

~posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA mid-day announcer and host of the the show, Classical Austin (Wednesday evenings at 8pm).