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Volume 19 Issue 6 - March 2014

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Symbiotic! Music &

Symbiotic! Music & DanceBY PAULA CITRONPeggy Baker has a firm principle concerningher choreographic relationship with music.She will not allow tape if the piece was meantto be performed live. If she commissions workfrom a composer who is a devotee of electronica, thatis a different story. “Music is the fastest way to connectto your own physicality,” she states, “and it is magicalwhen live music vibrates through your body.”In Baker’s new dance show, he:she, which opens atthe Betty Oliphant Theatre on March 29, the worldsof acoustic and electronic music come together incompositions by Chan Ka Nin, Heather Schmidtand Alain Thibault. Joining the six dancers will beclarinetist Max Christie, cellist Shauna Rolston, andcomposer/pianist John Kameel Farah. The latter willprovide the improvised score for the world premiereof Aleatoric Duet No. 2.Not surprisingly, Baker has had a connectionwith live music her whole life. When she was intraining, her dance classes had live accompaniment.Two husbands, Michael J. Baker and AhmedHassan, were composers and musicians. Whenshe performed with the White Oak Dance Project,founded by dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and choreographerMark Morris, a chamber orchestra touredwith the company.Baker returned from her years in New Yorkwith a gift. As a testament to her enormous talent,Morris had given her his solo Ten Suggestions, set toBagatelles, Op. 5 by Alexander Tcherepnin. To perform the work, sheneeded a pianist, and that is how Baker met Andrew Burashko. Whatfollowed has been many fruitful years of collaboration between livemusic and dance. Says Baker: “Andrew said that if we were going towork together, we had to choose important music, and I made dancesto Brahms, Prokofiev, Poulenc, Philip Glass. Andrew introduced me toa fantastic world of music.”For his part, Burashko admits that he approached his accompanimentfor Ten Suggestions as just another gig, but then Baker tookhim by surprise. “When we met,” he explains, “she told me to playthe music the way I felt it, at whatever tempi and emotional levelI wanted. She put the piano on the stage. I was featured with thedancer. Peggy was literally asking me to step outside the classicalmusic bubble.”Through his work with Baker, Burashko explored the music repertoirebeyond what he calls the muscular, flashy stuff that is at theheart of a solo piano career. He is currently artistic director of the Artof Time Ensemble, which presents an adventurous series combiningmusic and other disciplines in innovative ways.“I grew as an artist,” he says. “Peggy gave me a whole new universe.Art of Time could not have happened without her. She exposed me tolighting and staging and a sense of theatre, elements that play a largepart in what I do now.”Baker also learned something from collaborating with musiciansthat has influenced the way she looks at her own approach to choreography.“In dance, we tend to concentrate on the whole piece byplaying the music from the beginning to the end, and hope each timewe do it better. Musicians practice differently. They pull things apart.They try to discover the architecture of the score. This has led me tolook at details like dance in relation to space, the rhythmic expressionof the body, floor patterns, dynamics, themes and variations.Musicians aren’t afraid to work on one small musical element overand over again. It’s an amazing work model.”Bringing the acoustic and electronic worlds together is the newmusic commission from composer Schmidt which features tape andPeggy Baker and Shauna Rolstonfrom Words Fail (1999)“I love the human body. Working with dancersmakes me think about how movement translatesinto my own body.” Shauna Rolstonlive cello. It was Rolston who introduced Baker and Schmidt to eachother. In the piece, Rolston will be joined on stage by three maledancers.Baker began the collaboration by telling Schmidt her ideas aboutthe new piece, mandating that the length should be between 20 to 30minutes. (In fact, it is roughly 24 minutes.) One of her inspirations wasthe photographs of Edward Watson and his highly eroticized naturalworld. The title, stone leaf shell skin, comes from Watson’s images.Calgary-born Schmidt lives in Los Angeles. She and Rolston havea long connection. Their concertizing began in 1998 with Schmidt’sCello Concerto. “Adding in the dance element takes collaboration to awhole new level,” Schmidt says. In fact, Schmidt has a dance background,and has worked with choreographers before.From the Watson photographs, Schmidt took the concept of lightand dark. The musical themes embrace both a light tone and a darkerone. When Baker sent Schmidt videos of the preliminary dancevocabulary, the composer looked at them, then set them aside. SaysSchmidt: “I created musical sketches inspired by the choreography,but not specific to any one dance section, which I sent back to Peggy.In looking at the video again, I mentally matched the music to thedance sections based on what worked best together from my point ofview. What’s amazing is that Peggy matched the same dance sectionswith the music exactly as I had done.”It was Baker who wanted an electronic component. After discussions,Schmidt decided on a drone effect, with the cello part playedabove and below the drone line. To blend with the acoustic cello, thefour drone segments are keyed to the open strings of the cello – C, G,D and A.Rolston has worked with many choreographers over the years andfinds it a stimulating collaboration. “I love the human body,” she says.“Working with dancers makes me think about how movement translatesinto my own body. I’m aware of shape and lines. Dancers havesuch a passion for music that I feel part of the dance. What we arecreating at the moment is organic, fresh, direct and vital. New musicmeans sizzling energy. Incidentally, Peggy loves my carbon fibre cello.It’s black, shiny and sleek. She likes striking visual effects.”8 | March 1 – April 7, 2014 thewholenote.comCYLLA VON TIEDEMANN

Ballet and New MusicRICHARD TERMINEVanessa Lawson, Amanda Green, Jo-Ann Sundermeier,and Maureya Lebowitz in Peter Quanz’s In Tandem,Works & Process at the Guggenheim, 2009.In the ballet world, live music is the rule and not the exception.The audience expects an orchestra in the pit. Karen Kain,artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, states that whilethe company is committed to new music, it is much easier if thechoreographer uses an extant composition. “New music has to beorchestrated which is expensive and time consuming,” she says.Conductor David Briskin is the National’s music director. Heoutlines the rules concerning new music: “The score has to comebefore the steps, which means a lot of back and forth has goneon between the choreographer and the composer. There has tobe a piano reduction for the studio, or at least, a mini recording.Also, the tempi have to be fixed because the dancers need to knowthe parameters.”Next season, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is premiering a new fulllengthballet choreographed by Mark Godden about the AboriginalTruth and Reconciliation Commission. Acclaimed authorJoseph Boyden has written the scenario, while Christos Hatzis iscomposing the music.As RWB artistic director André Lewis points out, with today’stechnology, a composer can simulate the sound of an acousticorchestra on a midi file to use in rehearsals. For its home season,the RWB always has an orchestra. When it goes on tour, however,the dancers perform to tape.To prepare for that eventuality, Hatzis is creating several mixes.Part of his score incorporates the Northern Cree Singers. SaysHatzis: “When the singers perform live on tour, the tape will just beinstrumental. When they are not scheduled, the tape will includethe entire score.”How the dancers react to tape after the live experience is interesting.Vanessa Lawson and Tara Birtwhistle are both former primaballerinas with the RWB. They describe how the tempi neverchange in a recording, and in order to keep the dance fresh, theyhad to find ways to work against muscle memory auto pilot. Forexample, they would hang on to a note, and then speed up runningto a lift. The main thing was to not lose track of the music.Feisty Ballet British Columbia has limited resources and tapeis the norm. In order to give her dancers the live music experience,artistic director Emily Molnar has built up a relationshipwith Vancouver’s famed new music orchestra the Turning PointEnsemble. Says Molnar: “It’s thrilling for the dancers to have aconversation between music and dance. Live music is a gift.”Their recent February concert featured music by John King, LeraAuerbach and Owen Underhill, the Turning Point’s co-artisticdirector and conductor. The Underhill piece that Vancouver choreographerWen Wei Wang used for his ballet In Motion was titledGeometry of Harmony.Says Underhill: “Because it was a concert piece, the musicianscouldn’t imagine it with dance. Now they can’t imagine it withoutdance. He even put us on stage. We were in a line at the back.His choreography was a revelation. Wen Wei picked up on qualities,rhythms and humour in the music that I never could havepredicted. His imagination was enormous. For the ten differentmovements, he created ten different worlds. ”Paula Citronthewholenote.com March 1 – April 7, 2014 | 9

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