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Mother, son find away to collaborate and combine passions

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Jacob Hamrick and Kathy Dunn Hamrick.

Choreographer Kathy Dunn Hamrick says she thought about it a while before she approached her 21-year-old son, Jacob Hamrick, about collaborating on her next evening-length modern dance concert, "Alone, Alone," which opens next weekend at Salvage Vanguard Theater.

Though the longtime Austin choreographer found intrigue in the ambient, complex rock music of Hill Ma, one of two bands Hamrick plays with (the other is For Hours and Ours), she took some time approaching him.

"It was just like any other creative collaboration I've considered, and those always take a good deal of thought to put together," says Dunn Hamrick. "For me, creating a new production is always business. Yes, it's a creative give-and-take, but there's always a practical side."

A practical side that means contracts, scheduling and logistics. And also matching artistic temperaments — not just between her and her son, but among his three bandmates and her company.

But Hamrick, an art student at the University of Texas, seems to have inherited his mother's approach to creativity. "Yeah, we're doing business together," he says meeting up for a coffee with his mother recently. "That's one thing I've learned from my mother: how to take your art seriously if you want to make it happen."

Together, mother and son have made it happen: Hill Ma will play live when Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company perform next weekend.

Though dance has always been Dunn Hamrick's medium, she never specifically directed Hamrick or her other child, 18-year-old Hannah, specifically toward her artistic medium. But the artistic drive nevertheless seems to have been passed on. (Hannah has made video segments for her mother's concerts.)

In addition to playing live with his band for the hour-long "Alone, Alone," Hamrick, who studies drawing and painting, has spearheaded an accompanying exhibit featuring the multimedia creative materials everyone in the band generated while working on the collaboration.

"That's a little different from me. I've always just made dance," says Dunn Hamrick. "This younger generation has this drive to create across so many media. I'm impressed."

Dunn Hamrick's KDH Dance Company has carved a niche for itself in Austin with a distinctive style that's both abstract yet vigorously athletic. Whereas many modern dance choreographers tend to the serious, Dunn Hamrick has never shied from incorporating the humorously absurd. Her work has garnered her many kudos including the "Outstanding Dance Concert" award from the Austin Critics Table.

But the last year or so has brought changes to Dunn Hamrick's life. She turned 50. Her grandmother passed away. And Hannah moved out of the house to attend UT, leaving Dunn Hamrick and her husband, Dave, as empty-nesters.

"I had this feeling for a while that I was disappearing," she says. "Suddenly, there was a new kind of aloneness I hadn't experienced before."

Those new feelings became the inspiration for "Alone, Alone." Dunn Hamrick created a series of short segments that has the dancers exploring modes of aloneness.

"It can be good to be alone," she says. "There's new kinds of space in my life that hasn't been there since before I was a mother."

Mother and son have had their creative tussles along the way. Used to a something of an improvisational approach to music-making (Hill Ma plays long, almost free-form pieces), He has kept tinkering with the songs' endings. That's not cool with choreographers — like his mother — who keep all the movement within the confines of the music.

"He keeps changing and extending the endings of the songs, I keep telling him to leave it alone and keep it just like it is on the CD," She says.

"I just want to make it better," He says.

There was more for mother and son to figure out as they collaborated. She didn't want him to end up as the only point person between herself as choreographer and the band. He had to learn to step back and let his bandmates deal directly with his mother. "Sometimes, I felt kind of protective over her," he says.

Though she plays it cool over coffee, she is unmistakably proud on many levels.

"I see parts of him I didn't necessarily see before," she says. "I see a certain confidence he has a musician and a performer. It's nice to see your kids out on their own and succeeding. You put in all this effort and these hopes for them that they are happy and doing what they want. It just makes you feel good as a mother to see that come about."

He says: "I want to make art for living, just like mother."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

'Alone, Alone'

When: 8 p.m. March 25-27

Where: Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Road

Tickets: $12-$15

Information: www.kdhdance.com