The 'Threads' that Bind

For years she moved them from place to place, wherever her career took her, neatly folded, tucked in a closet, appreciated but rarely acknowledged.

To New York City, where she spent 13 years as a professional ballerina with Dance Theatre of Harlem. To Tampa, where she joined the dance faculty at the University of South Florida in 1995. Most recently, to Goddard College, where she returned as a mid-career professional to get her MFA and finally realized why she’d never gotten rid of the dozens of family quilts she’d carried around with her for decades.

“All of these things I’d had in my possession, in my closet,” says Anjali (AHN-jah-lee) Austin. “Something just kept telling me I can’t give these away. It could not be clearer to me now what I was supposed to be doing with them. I just had to wait.”

What she was waiting for was the creation of “Threads,” an “auto-ethnographic” one-woman show Austin will present this week at the New College of Florida Black Box Theater. A multi-disciplinary work incorporating dance, song and dialogue, it is at once a historical document of her African-American and Native American roots, an exploration of how familial influences shape lives and a tribute to her ancestors — in particular her maternal grandmother, Gussie Beatrice Arnold Hill, who made most of those quilts.

The performances are being sponsored by New College of Florida and Fuzión Dance Artists, whose founder, Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott, first came to Sarasota in order to take over a now-defunct FSU Dance Sarasota program begun by Austin.

“She’s the reason I was even introduced to this community,” says Bolaños-Wilmott, who has lived in the area ever since and founded her own contemporary company here in 2006. “I loved this idea of her drawing on her background and using all her strengths and I thought it was a natural thing to do, for us to provide her a platform because she’s also given to this community.”