The idea of dancers and musicians working together is not new. Even the notion of removing classical musicians from the orchestra pit and having mover and musician share the stage is not anything revolutionary. Jerome Robbins did it with that hulking piano in The Concert (or, the Perils of Everybody), BalletMet did it with Twisted 2, Choreographer Alexander Ekman placed musicians onstage and had the dancers incorporate percussive noise, adding to the score, in his famously hilarious ballet, ‘Cacti’. However, even when musicians emerge from the pit, they are usually playing an old piece of music. Rarely do dancers and musicians collaborate on an equally new project, and even more rarely- if ever- does that creation happen of both music and movement occur simultaneously.
On Saturday June 5th, dance and music came together for a cumulative performance at NYU’s Center for Ballet and the Arts resulting from the 5th annual Next Festival of Emerging Artists, founded by Artistic Director Peter Askim. 2017 marks the first year the workshop has included choreography and dance in the mix.
Here is a brief description of the Workshop:
2017 marks the Fifth Anniversary of The Next Festival of Emerging Artists and the inaugural season of the Next Festival Composer/Choreographer Workshop. Led by choreographer Christopher D’Amboise (NYC Ballet, Tony Nominee), Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis and Guest Composer Derek Bermel, three outstanding young choreographers and composers work with the performers of Next Festival in an innovative, intensive exploration of the creative and collaborative processes.
Despite a deep artistic kinship, choreographers and composers have different artistic processes and speak different “languages.” Collaborations between the two are rarely truly collaborative: either the music or the dance tends to come first, with the other discipline left in a somewhat secondary role.
Over the course of three days at the beginning of June, NYU’s Center for Ballet and the Arts hosts the artists of The Next Festival of Emerging Artists. The choreographers and composers join twenty string players (ages 20-30) to stretch creative boundaries, create life-long artistic relationships and work toward a truly common language of creative collaboration. The Workshop will culminate with an open workshop at 5 p.m. on June 10, where the artists will show works in progress, discuss their working process and share their discoveries.
Addressing strategies of creative and collaborative process, choreographers and composers were given emotional prompts from which to begin a working relationship. This guided prompt opened a dialogue in which artists first agreed upon the understanding of the language, and compromised on how this would resonate in sounds and movement. Through this radical setting, diverse presentations of content and concept provided a range of picture, sound, and impact.
The first piece, focusing on the concept of ‘nostalgia’, was both intelligent and simple in design, captivating in execution. Choreographed by Evvie Allison, a single-file line of four dancers- two men, two women- shifted backwards in space without losing contact while navigating a curved route through musicians, behind the audience, through the exit. This continuous sliding action was accompanied by tense, drawn-out notes from a string quartet composed by T.J. Cole. As the dancers shifted backwards in mechanical breathless fashion, the notes often slid up the scale with a heavy sense of ebb and flow. The unison group work, devoid of overt facial or musical expression, made even small human moments like blinking seem jarring, and small details such as the differing eye line of the dancers more noticeable. It was a piece that required leaning in, where a relatively static movement and music score served a complex concept in an eerie, condensed, retreating linear narrative.
I would personally love to see this piece staged with collaboration from the other technical elements such as costume and lighting. Maybe some dry ice…I’m getting carried away.
The second piece took an opposite approach, the composer Marco-Adrian Ramos describing a desire to mesh the music and dance and decided to combine them by spreading them out in the physical space. Here, the four musicians played in the four corners of the room, standing as the group of dancers flocked closer to their designated ‘planet’, orbiting around them in a specific contorted or sustained way, a syncopated rhythm. The piece provided distinct layers of music that pushed or pulled the movement in a similar language without obvious use of the same step. While this piece provided more content, broader use of space, showcased more of the dancers’ physical prowess in jumps and falls, it was more predictable in concept. It was visually and audibly exciting rather than emotionally impactful.
A unique factor of the workshop is the role reversal of choreographer and composer, in which the dance maker was asked to create music and the composer asked to choreograph. Choreographer Ellie Hardwick shared the graphic ABA form of adjectives she gave to violinist Sara Sasaki; words like sensual or spontaneous.. It was a fun roller coaster of art appreciation, anticipating the appearance of these abstract words in note, speed, and sound. . Composer, T.J. Cole described watching choreographer Allison stretching her feet while waiting for direction and decided to use her natural movement in silence and go from there. The memorable moments here were those of the accidental forward fall to the ground, like a bird falling out of the nest, a toddler dropping a toy from their high chair. I would love to hear the music Cole would create to accompany her new foray into choreography should this work-in-progress continue to progress.
The final choreographed piece from Celeste Patten and composed by Eli Greenhoe placed the musicians in a standing semi-circle, facing in to the coupled dancers who dragged, supported each other along the path of the circle. Both in sound and presence, the musicians were foreboding, intimidating while the dancers seemed baby-like, helpless in their cradled state. As the musicians abruptly stopped playing and switched spots in the circle, the movement changed to incorporate faster speeds, the dancers climbing upon and throwing each other. A solo female shifting laterally in undercurve through deep grand plie, the notion of over/under became more noticeable as the dancers either threw or supported each other, always from underneath- supporting the neck or holding under the armpits. The piece looked like an examination of servitude, support, power distribution, and revolution. We were not told the prompt, so this assumption could be way off. There was enough content to provide an attempt at assigning concept, also enough that this presumed concept might differ according to the perceptions of each individual audience member. Here in lies the power and the subjectivity of art.
Shared language being an emphasis of the workshop, interesting use of the word ‘lab’ was often applied in description of the process by D’Amboise. As anyone with a background in laboratory work knows, research is only considered credible when the framework is repeatable. This rule lies in stark contrast with the of-the-moment creations relying on current moods, interests, and experiences of each individual, collaborating artist. However, if the goal of creating art is to have an emotional impact it aligns with research in the search for truth, albeit without the systematic procedure. With the objective of an entirely new, impactful creation on both sides of the dance-music lens and a fostering of further successful collaborations from these new-found partnerships, the Festival allows artists to rediscover their own practice through a collaborative perspective including another form and another individual. In this, the of-the-moment product becomes increasingly true and timeless for the multiplicity of human input, each shared work-in-progress irreplaceable, repeatable as the individual artists who shape it.
Want to learn more apply to participate? Check out the Next Festival of Emerging Artists webpage
|Isa Al Najem|