Tapestry's Are You Listening to Me?


Austin American Statesman / Apr 2011


In the hushed theater, this quotation seemed appropriate: “It takes silence to create rhythm.” So said Tapestry Dance Company’s Executive Artistic Director Acia Gray Friday evening during the opening number of the tap company’s show, “Are You Listening to Me?” Gray, along with six of her company’s dancers and guest theater artist Zell Miller III, then proceeded to treat audiences to a wonderful array of sounds in the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center. The loud, the quiet, the weird, the routine — nothing was off limits for this seasoned troupe of tappers.

Tapestry Dance Company, now in its 21st season, explored the inter-rhythms between the shuffle-shuffle of the feet and the modulations of the voice. In the first piece, “The Voices in Your Head,” the dancers lined up across the stage and spoke rapidly all at once, until they were silenced by some inexplicable force, though still left to gesture wildly with their arms, their mouths simultaneously moving like a fish’s underwater. One by one, Gray touched them, giving them voice, before relinquishing their power.

The voice often functioned as a source of comedy. In “Find the Quiet,” Brenna Kuhn was the object of jibber jabber as each of her fellow dancers approached her to utter nonsensical sounds. Tanya Rivard laughed herself into hysterical crying; Matt Shields voiced what can best be described as a whiny Italian cadence; and Thomas Wadelton’s jig/jibberish combination induced the audience to laughter.

At other times, words were powerful. “The opposite of courage is not cowardice. The opposite of courage is conformity,” pronounced Miller. The dichotomy between courage and conformity was very much present throughout the evening. It was highlighted in “The Journey,” in which the group of six — perfectly synchronized — moved forwards and backwards in profile. One by one, they broke from the herd to forge their own path in this world of daily routines, before rejoining the group. The music, by Jani Sieber, sounded like it could have come off the “American Beauty” soundtrack (though it didn’t) — whimsical, with a touch of melancholy.

There’s no denying the fact that Tapestry’s dancers are talented. In many ways, the most compelling bits of the evening were when they were all-out dancing, pure and simple. As an audience member, it was almost as though I could feel every fiber of my being getting sucked into the vortex of their energy. In one solo, Wadelton performed quick, tiny movements, at times standing up on his tippy toes like an awkward ballerina. Lost in his own world, we came to understand: Life isn’t about perfection. It’s about being you, about being “free,” as Wadelton himself said.

In another solo, Shields tapped in a mini sandbox at the back of the stage, the friction between his shoes and the sand producing a sound like a needle scratch on a record. Although his nimble movements were limited to a small area, he hardly looked constrained.

Conformity or courage? Tapestry chose the latter.