Ballet Austin’s ‘Hamlet’ is a dark, surreal wonder

Ballet, by its very nature, is dramatic. It’s pure emotion given form through movement, light, and music. This makes “Hamlet”, perhaps the most dramatic of Shakespeare’s plays, a perfect choice for a ballet, as Stephen Mills has proven through his world-renowned production. Ballet Austin’s “Hamlet” is a dark, sumptuous journey through Shakespeare’s tale, bending and at times breaking the original narrative to create moments of intriguing texture and fiery emotion.

A certain knowledge of “Hamlet” is in many ways essential for true enjoyment of this ballet. The action is loose, symbolic, and esoteric, straying from the path of the original play in places, so a general grounding on the actual story is paramount to following the narrative. There’s still plenty of dark wonder on display here for those who aren’t “Hamlet” experts, but those with knowledge of the bard’s piece will have a much better appreciation for the performance.

Any performance of this play hinges upon the strength of the actor playing “Hamlet”. Indeed, many performances have been led astray due to the performance not having the right charisma or presence to take on the lead character. Luckily, dancer Frank Shott is more than up to the task, bringing a boldness and flair to the role, as well as some of the best technical skill in the piece. He has amazing chemistry with most of the other performers, in particular Ashley Lynn Sherman, with whom he creates a bevvy of beautiful moments.

One performer who truly captures the surreal qualities of Stephen’s direction and choreography is Ashley Lynn Sherman, who takes the role of Ophelia to bold levels. The scene of her death is one of the most shocking, disturbing, and awe-inspiring moments of the ballet, and perhaps of the season. Mills and Sherman take those symbols that so signify Ophelia (water, flowers), and magnify them to stunning extremes, creating a darkly beautiful display that ends in the body of our lead actress hovering over the rest of the cast, cast in the beautiful flair of light, courtesy of the inspired lighting design of Tony Tucci. It’s the highlight of the piece, and the fact that it’s presented after a curtain fall makes it all the more surprising and powerful.

Ballet Austin continues to be one of the most adventurous and unique companies in town, thanks in no small part to the dark genius of Stephen Mills. Gorgeous and dreamlike, Ballet Austin’s “Hamlet” is a thrilling journey through Shakespeare’s story, given frenzied, fractured treatment that heightens the emotion, even as it shortens and intensifies the narrative. It’s one of the most original takes on Shakespeare’s play, and a stunning example of what Austin’s ballet community has to offer.

Photo Courtesy of Anne Marie Bloodgood

‘Year of the Rooster’: Dark comedy rules the day in Capital T’s funniest in ages

“Year of the Rooster” is, in many ways, a hard sell. The moment you tell someone that it’s a black comedy about cock fighting, you can expect some eye-rolling and shocked looks. Thanks to fast-hitting humor, energetic performances, and sharp direction from Mark Pickell, Capital T has created gold from his concept, taking audiences on a hilarious, engaging journey through the dark parts of rural Oklahoma, presenting an almost Shakespearean portrait of the epic rise and fall of one of an up-and-coming cock fighter, played with sensitive humor by Jason Newman.

Jason Liebrecht jumps out of the gate swinging (at times literally), and doesn’t decrease his energy throughout. His twitchy, angry, and often psychotic performance as young, but promising, fighting rooster Odysseus Rex is truly original, and Liebrecht gives his whole to create an intriguing character. Some of the best laughs of the piece come from his interactions with various others, including the motionless dog as played by disheveled mop-head. His adventures are the stuff of Greek tragedy, and makes for an excellent backbone to the play.

From chick and a dude’s “Brass Ring”, to Capital T’s “Killer Joe”, to Hyde Park’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” and Street Corner Arts’ “Men From Tortuga”, Kenneth Wayne Bradley always feels like he’s at his best when he’s treading the boards of the Hyde Park Theatre, so when he first appears as the slick, but imposing Dickie Thimble, it feels like the first rain after a grueling drought. Despite spending time away from live theatre, Bradley proves he’s just as sharp as ever, bringing his unique sense of intensity and charisma that makes him infinitely watchable.

Julia Bauer’s Philipa is a potent morsel of pure spunk, a compact package bursting at the seams with sass and attitude. The moment she bursts on to the scene in the first act, she becomes a shining point of every scene she’s in. Her repartee with Jason Newman is delightful, her brash, aggressive attitude scraping against his antisocial standoffishness to create sparkling moments of bizarre chemistry. Bauer never plays it one note, however, injecting authentic pathos into the later stages of the production. Her surprise second role is also performed with aplomb, but to say more is to give away one of the play’s more humorous surprises.

In a year of intense and thoughtful theatrical experiences, “Year of the Rooster” sets itself apart by being pure fun. It’s also a star-making vehicle for Julia Bauer, a triumphant return to Hyde Park stage for Kenneth Wayne Bradley, and, indeed, Capital T’s best production in years. Pointed, dark, and original “Year of the Rooster” is sure to delight fans of Capital T’s past productions, and may even create some converts with its cutting, chuckle-worthy presentation.

Photo Courtesy of Capital T Theatre