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Broadway and Ballet Hispánico: A guide to Texas Performing Arts' 40th anniversary season

Michael Barnes
Austin 360
Ballet Hispánico returns to Texas Performing Arts this season.

Texas Performing Arts isn't playing around for its 40th anniversary. The University of Texas arts presenter plans to roar back from the COVID-19 pandemic with not only a full season, but two slates of shows that, taken together, might be the most ambitious in its history.

Back in February, the UT group unveiled its 2021-2022 Broadway series, which includes return visits for mega-hits "Hamilton" and "The Lion King," as well as newcomers "Hadestown," "Tootsie," "Mean Girls," "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" and "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

Given the multiweek runs for "Hamilton" and "Lion King," that adds up to 10 weeks of Broadway at Bass Concert Hall, which opened in March 1981, as opposed to the usual seven or eight weeks.

Helen Sung will perform with the UT Jazz Orchestra.

For its 40th anniversary series of non-Broadway material, director Bob Bursey, who took over the job right before the pandemic, appears ready shake up the venue's schedule. This season promises startling and memorable samplings of world theater, music, dance, film and performance art, along with regular visits from old favorites.

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The newly released series includes partnerships with two smaller Austin groups (Fusebox and UT Visual Art Center), along with several Texas and world premieres. Many of the shows come with Texas themes.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has a longtime relationship with UT's Texas Performing Arts.

"The UT slogan — 'What starts here changes the world' — sums up our ambitions," Bursey says. "We want to be a creative incubator for new work and send it around the world. Our mission is new knowledge. We ask: 'Who is pushing the forms forward and how do we help them do that?'"

Perhaps the most surprising visitors will be the "granddaddies of experimental theater," the New York-based Wooster Group, known for reinterpreting American culture through what can seem at times like pure bedlam. In their first visit to Texas, they will premiere a work about East Texas penal colonies in the 1960s, then will reveal some work in progress.

Some programs will take place beyond the campus. Such is the case through the teamwork with Fusebox, which puts on a performance festival known around the world. (Meanwhile, the Rude Mechs have been renamed the company in residence for the UT Department of Theatre and Dance.)

Tina Satter / Half Straddle's "Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription" will be presented in collaboration with Fusebox.

"This gets us out of the building," Bursey says. "Away from: 'Come to us! Come to campus! Sit in our seats!'"

Yet Bursey felt it was also crucial to bring back some of the major troupes from the center's past, such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ballet Hispánico.

"It is important to honor the artists who have been important to us during the past 40 years and to respect existing legacies," he says. "Not just 'Out with the old! In with the new!' That's not healthy. Anyway, the Alvin Ailey troupe hasn't been here since 2009 and Ballet Hispánico since 2002."

The late Ailey retained deep links to Central Texas, since the choreographer hailed for the town of Rogers, just up the road in Bell County, and his signature piece, "Revelations," was inspired by churchgoing there.

Nathalie Joachim and Spektral Quartet will perform "Fanm d’Ayiti."

Among the other ensembles on the bill is the Kronos Quartet, which has been a center regular. This time, the link will go deeper with the commission of new work.

Several of the shows in this series will be staged at the McCullough Theater or Bates Recital Hall, which are located in the same complex as Bass Concert Hall.

Something else new at the center: Bursey took advantage of the long break in stage activity to put together several key updates to Bass Concert Hall — some cosmetic, others that will change the basic performance experience for audience members.

Sharp eyes will notice new carpeting and, in the two balconies, new seats, some of which had not been recovered in 40 years. No more faded burnt orange; welcome slate and taupe.

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Even more subtle are updates to the audio and video systems, some of them decades old, too. The most striking change, however, can be found in the side sections of the two balconies. The seats have been angled toward the stage to improve sight lines and their elevations — once hair-raisingly steep — have been reduced.

More good news: The center ordered up a study of nearby parking options that will be altered because of the new and nearby Moody Center. The consultants found that the parking garage on San Jacinto Street can accommodate the performing arts crowds.

"Yes, parking matters," Bursey says. "As we raise the curtain after this long intermission, we’re certainly looking at what might cause people not to return. Lack of parking would be one of those reasons.”

2021-2022 Texas Performing Arts Season

Staged at various venues in the UT Performing Arts Center and one off-campus space; ticket info at texasperformingarts.org. Check for updates on the center's full slate of events, which includes additional concerts and comedians, at texasperformingarts.org/events.

Sept. 9-12: The Wooster Group — "The B-Side: 'Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons.'"

Sept. 20: The Wooster Group — "Untitled Toast" (new work in progress)

Oct. 30: Ballet Hispánico — "Noche de Oro: A Celebration of 50 Years"

Nov. 5: Jason Moran and the Harlem Hellfighters — "James Reese Europe and the Absence of Ruin" 

Nov. 19-20: Kronos Quartet — "At War With Ourselves" (world premiere)

Dec. 4: Movement Art Is and Third Coast Percussion — "Metamorphosis"

Jan. 21-22: Bill Morrison and Bill Frisell — "The Great Flood" (co-presented with UT Visual Art Center)

Jan. 27-30: Tina Satter / Half Straddle — "Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription" (co-presented with Fusebox)

March 11-12: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

April 1-17: "Plastic Bag Store" at Blue Genie Art Bazar, 6100 Airport Blvd. (April 15-17 performances presented as part of Fusebox 2022)

April 9: Helen Sung with the UT Jazz Orchestra

April 22: Nathalie Joachim and Spektral Quartet — "Fanm d’Ayiti"

May 12: Angélique Kidjo — "Remain In Light"

2021-2022 Broadway in Austin Season

At Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive; ticket info at BroadwayinAustin.com, 800-731-7469.

Dec. 7-19: "Hamilton" (season add-on)

Jan. 11-16: "Hadestown"

Feb. 22-27: "Tootsie"

March 22-27: "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

April 7-24: "The Lion King"

May 3-8: "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical"

Aug. 2-7: "Mean Girls"