Grasping Manos de Cristo and Ballet Austin

The invocation at the Manos de Cristo gala snuck up on me.

My mind wandered a bit — in a good way — during a biblical reading from Luke. Then it closed with a punch: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Carlos and Sara Galindo at Manos de Cristo 30th Anniversary Gala. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

I caught my breath. I’ve attended hundreds of not thousands of nonprofit benefits in Austin. This line from Luke could be included in almost any charity invocation. Because that’s what these nonprofits are doing, day in, day out, year after year. And our gratitude should be boundless.

The 30th anniversary Manos benefit got off to a chilly start because of the capricious April weather. The 90 minutes of cocktail reception took place in the windy, open-sided lobby of ACL Live. The women in short cocktail dresses and off-the-shoulder gowns went begging for wraps. This was one Texas night when a vintage fur piece came in handy.

The next hour was taken up by dinner inside the theater. Fortuitously, I ended up at a table between Denise Jones, who spent most of her life in Fort Worth, and Justin Calloway, who grew up in the Corpus Christi area. Stories about those two Texas cities easily filled up 60 merry minutes.

Gala leaders expertly handled the celebratory program. We were reminded of the humble beginnings of Manos at El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church in the Cesar Chavez neighborhood. Then as now, the group provides certain basic services — food, clothing and lessons — but Manos is best known for its amazing affordable dental program. It now runs a much larger second clinic on Harmon Avenue.

Expansion there, including a real parking lot, was made possible in part by two Lutherans, cheerful philanthropist Dick Rathgeber and his equally buoyant coreligionist Earl Maxwell, CEO of the St. David’s Foundation. Good works are good works, after all.

RELATED:  Col. and Mrs. Dick Rathgeber and the Big Reveal.

What good fortune then to discover that Victoria Pineda is back in the auction game! Always fast, fun, witty and sweet, Pineda raced through the early part of the auction in a way that made everyone in the room feel like a full participant. Such a rare gift.

Ballet Austin

Just a few more words on “Exit Wounds,” Stephen Mills‘ unforgettable three-part Ballet Austin concert at the Long Center.

The final movement from “Truth Rescued by Time,” part of Stephen Mills’ “Exit Wounds” from Ballet Austin. Contributed by Anne Marie Bloodgood

READ: Ballet Austin aims for the heart with “Exit Wounds.”

• Seventy-five minutes without an intermission was exactly right for these dark yet somehow encouraging dances. Any break would have broken the spell.

• Even if already partially seen in rehearsals, all three pieces opened up magnificently after relevant costumes, scenery and lighting were added. We might attend primarily for the undiluted dance, but every other element plays a crucial part.

• The introductory videos with voiceovers about the personal experiences that informed the dances were beautiful and informative. They also made one think how the pieces might live on without these frames.

• Maybe because it has had the longest time to gestate, but “Four Mortal Men,” set to a Debussy string quartet, seems to me the most portable and durable of the trio. Revisiting the subjects of AIDS, art and companionship in 1980s new York, Mills’ entangling choreography rarely looked so indispensable. And kudos to the four dancers for their heartbreaking interpretations.

• We squirmed in our seats during a short dance set to the famous 1982 White House press conference, as laughing correspondents joked with the Press Secretary Larry Speakes about the “gay plague” and why the President Ronald Reagan blithely ignored it. Mills himself performed in a fury downstage, but the historical audio record was almost too much to take even 36 years later.

• The third movement in “Truth Rescued by Time,” performed by the entire company, was an unqualified triumph. It really could stand alone. Everything that makes Mills’ work so timely yet timeless was reflected in the 22 artists who did not lose their individuality while performing as a living, symbolic organism.