A history of Austin Ballet Theatre at the Armadillo World Headquarters




Clark, Caroline Sutton

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The purpose of this qualitative historical inquiry is to investigate the performances of Austin Ballet Theatre at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, TX from 1972 to 1980. Austin Ballet Theatre was an amateur ballet company performing classical and contemporary works at the Armadillo World Headquarters, a psychedelic music club. In addition to allowing for the composition of a historiography of this unusual pairing, the dissertation research results in multiple insights into an important, although largely unknown, period of cultural history in the Austin community. It also highlights how connections among diverse groups of people and practices not only iterated through the situation of practice then but continue to influence historical narratives about the ballet and how it is remembered.

The research was conducted using an oral history methodology with 19 participants representing a variety of perspectives on these ballet performances. These interviewees included dancers, mothers of the dancers, visual artists for both the ballet and the Armadillo, Armadillo staff, the lighting designer for the ballet, a dance critic for the newspaper, and audience members. Some documents, mostly newspaper reviews and articles along with playbills and broadsides, also emerged from the archives of the Austin History Center and the dancers’ private collections.

The use of open-ended oral history methods resulted in a constellation of analytical themes surrounding what the participants identified as the most important aspects of this history: learning through performing, and making ballet accessible to the community. Further investigation of these themes resulted in the questioning of sociocultural frames of ballet and how Austin Ballet Theatre’s practices functioned for dancers and audiences in this time and place.

The dissertation also investigates the narrative, discursive condition of history composition through the creation of a historiographic metafiction about Austin Ballet Theatre at the Armadillo World Headquarters. The metafiction, included as an appendix, provides an alternative way of experiencing the data towards fulfilling the research purpose of representing the multi-layered processes of qualitative historical inquiry. This research therefore supports a world-making view of dance practices and considers how such a perspective impacts historical narratives.



Social sciences, Communication and the arts, Armadillo world headquarters, Austin, Ballet, Oral history