Dance se­ries finds new ways to bring art to Austin

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Claire Cana­van Special to the Amer­i­can-States­man

Dancer and chore­og­ra­pher Jen­nifer Sher­burn works best un­der pres­sure. “I don’t do well with idle time,” she says. And that’s a good thing, be­cause her lat­est project is to cre­ate 11 dances in 11 months us­ing venues all over Austin.

So far the busy artist has com­pleted nine in­stall­ments, and the next one — fea­tur­ing chore­og­ra­phy by Sher­burn and guest artists Kelly Hasan­dras and Olivia O’Hare and an all-male cast of dancers — will run Aug. 9-12 at Im­pact Hub, a co-work­ing space in North Austin.

Not ev­ery­one can han­dle the lo­gis­ti­cal hur­dles and un­pre­dictable na­ture of site-spe­cific per­for­mance, but Sher­burn rev­els in the chal­lenge of dream­ing up a new work each month. She started the project as a way to fo­cus full­time on her dance ca­reer and teamed up with light­ing de­signer and pro­ducer Natalie Ge­orge to make it hap­pen.

Each month she in­vites a guest chore­og­ra­pher to cre­ate new work along­side her. “I fig­ured if I was do­ing all this work for my­self and went to the ef­fort to find a space, I wanted to share it with the com­mu­nity who’s been sup­port­ive of me,” Sher­burn said.

A Fort Worth na­tive, Sher­burn started danc­ing in high school, though “not will­ingly,” she joked. A friend con­vinced her to take a dance class to ful­fill the phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion re­quire­ment, and the teacher en­cour­aged her to join the dance pro­gram.

Sher­burn took her first chore­og­ra­phy class at Austin Com­mu­nity Col­lege with Al­li­son Orr of Fork­lift Dance­works and then went on to earn her un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in dance from the Univer­sity of Hawaii in 2007. In col­lege she stud­ied abroad at the Lon­don Con­tem­po­rary Dance School, and af­ter grad­u­a­tion she moved to New York to work with an ex­per­i­men­tal en­sem­ble called Troika Ranch.

In 2010 Sher­burn moved back to Austin. She didn’t set out to be a site-spe­cific chore­og­ra­pher but soon found that she en­joyed seek­ing out a spe­cific place that worked with her vi­sion for a dance. “It helps keep ideas fresh,” she said.

“If you wait to con­sider the space and don’t have an idea be­fore you get there, it’s re­ally rich to work there when you see the ar­chi­tec­ture and see how the au­di­ence works in the space. The vi­sion takes on a life of its own,” she says.

For “11:11,” Sher­burn and Ge­orge have been stag­ing pieces in lo­ca­tions you might not think of as per­for­mance spa­ces, such as Live Oak Brew­ery, an old fur­ni­ture ware­house and the for­mer home of Dario’s restau­rant in East Austin. Ge­orge, who spent 10 years as a pro­ducer with Fuse­box Fes­ti­val, loves the way site­spe­cific work can en­gage the au­di­ence. Work­ing to­gether, Sher­burn and Ge­orge care­fully con­sider how the guests will move through and in­ter­act with the space in or­der to cre­ate a fully im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence.

For ex­am­ple, the team staged the sev­enth in­stall­ment in May at Sertodo Cop­per, where Sher­burn used to work as op­er­a­tions man­ager. When Sher­burn went to the site for a visit, see­ing cars parked down a long, skinny drive­way gave her the idea to do a piece that evoked the drive-in movie ex­pe­ri­ence. The au­di­ence sat in cars and viewed the show through the win­dows. Car ra­dios were tuned to 94.1, a fre­quency cre­ated just for the per­for­mance that fea­tured the voice of KUT’s Rick McNulty. The head­lights from the cars cast beams of light that dancers filled with move­ment.

Other dances have put Sher­burn into col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­mu­ni­ties. In July, the ninth dance of the se­ries was staged at Com­mu­nity First Vil­lage, a 27-acre master-planned com­mu­nity founded by Alan Gra­ham of Mo­bile Loaves and Fishes, which of­fers per­ma­nent homes to the home­less and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Sher­burn con­ducted a move­ment work­shop with res­i­dents who then chore­ographed part of her piece. Guest chore­og­ra­pher Lisa Ann Kob­dish set her dancers off to run through the en­tire com­mu­nity, invit­ing the au­di­ence to join. Res­i­dents sold con­ces­sions dur­ing the per­for­mance as a way to earn money.

The 10th per­for­mance at Im­pact Hub will be one of the first pieces to en­gage with North Austin. “We’re both ex­cited that we’re in a new ZIP code,” Ge­orge said. “We’ve been try­ing to move around the city, and it’s been harder to get places far­ther out.”

When cre­at­ing a new dance, Sher­burn likes to con­sider the his­tory of a place. Im­pact Hub used to be a recre­ational cen­ter for the Texas Ranger Di­vi­sion that fea­tured an in­door swim­ming pool, and de­sign­ers left the orig­i­nal pool tiles up to be­come part of the cowork­ing space. Sher­burn is plan­ning to in­cor­po­rate an aquatic theme, the his­tory of the Rangers and the ar­chi­tec­ture of the space into her new­est dance.

The “11:11” se­ries will cul­mi­nate with a fi­nal per­for­mance se­ries in Septem­ber at Car­son Creek Ranch, fea­tur­ing guest chore­og­ra­pher Ros­alyn Nasky. Sher­burn and Ge­orge plan to re­pro­duce the two most pop­u­lar pieces from the se­ries some­time next year.

Af­ter al­most a year of be­ing in the pres­sure cooker, of hav­ing some­thing “knock­ing at my door con­stantly,” Sher­burn says she thinks that at the end of the se­ries she will be ready to de­velop some­thing more slowly. But she won’t soon for­get what she’s learned from her crosstown ad­ven­ture.

“Peo­ple are more open­minded and will­ing to open their doors than peo­ple as­sume,” she says. “They re­ally want to cross-pol­li­nate ideas and wel­come au­di­ences into their homes.”


The “11:11” dance se­ries has been go­ing on since Novem­ber. Each month, a new dance de­buts at a dif­fer­ent venue. Th­ese aren’t your typ­i­cal per­for­mance spa­ces: In July, “11:11:09” was staged at Com­mu­nity First Vil­lage, a 27-acre master-planned com­mu­nity that of­fers per­ma­nent homes to the home­less and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

Jen­nifer Sher­burn, right, works with per­form­ers dur­ing a re­hearsal of the ninth it­er­a­tion of “11:11” at Com­mu­nity First Vil­lage.

Ha­ley Lau­ren ap­plies makeup be­fore a re­hearsal for “11:11:09” on July 2.


Com­mu­nity First Vil­lage of­fers hous­ing to the home­less and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. For the “11:11:09” se­ries of per­for­mances, cre­ator Jen­nifer Sher­burn con­ducted a move­ment work­shop with res­i­dents who then chore­ographed part of her piece, and res­i­dents sold con­ces­sions dur­ing the per­for­mance as a way to earn money.

Kelsey Oliver re­hearses with other dancers for “11:11:09” at Com­mu­nity First Vil­lage on July 2.

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