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).

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