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Editorial

Fest Explores Music-Movement Link

by Jean Schiffman

“Music Moves” aims to alllow audiences to experience the many different ways that music illuminates the endlessly variable interplay between movement and music.

Some choreographers begin their artistic process with music score in hand. Others start in complete silence and allow various elements—perhaps movement, or concept, or structure—to dictate musical choices. Many work both ways at varying times. ODC Theater’s Music Moves Festival, an extravaganza of performances, aims to heighten awareness of the way different choreographers approach the musical component and make musical choices.

The relationship between music and dance is not necessarily a new idea for a festival theme, explains ODC Theater director Christy Bolingbroke. But she and her colleagues wanted to reach out to the music-loving audience and pique interest in the endlessly inventive ways that the two art forms affect one another. “A choreographer will respond to a score to show it [in a new light],” Bolingbroke says. “A choreographer can visually heighten what you hear,” or can “mickey mouse” to the music: matching it count for count, beat for beat. For some, like San Francisco choreographer Joe Goode, original song can at times drive the movement. And then there’s Keith Terry’s “body music”: the dancers in his Oakland sextet link movement to sounds they themselves generate. Or Kate Weare: As Bolingbroke points out about her work, “Even if you’re watching it in silence, the dancers are slapping each other, making sound.” And there’s John Heginbotham’s musicality: “He’s very attuned to what he’s hearing in the score,” says Bolingbroke, suggesting that might be attributed to his 14 years as a dancer with Mark Morris’ acclaimed company. It’s all a matter of creative choices.

“Music Moves” has an expansive program that features work by Oakland-born Weare (from her New York-based Kate Weare Company, reset on ODC’s own dancers; Aug. 14-16) and (in its West Coast debut) Dance Heginbotham, also from New York, with pieces from the choreographer’s repertory (Aug. 7-9). Other headliners are choreographers Pearl Marill, of Pearl Marill/M.O.C. (Modern on Command Aug.10 & 11) and Randee Paufve (whose Paufve Dance shares Kate Weare’s bill).

Also: A work by KT Nelson Aug 1 & 2, Joe Goode Performance Group (“Irresistibly Drawn,” comprising excerpts of song and dance from his repertoire, Aug. 3 & 4) and, to kick off the festival, ODC/Dance in two works by artistic director Brenda Way (“Breathing Underwater” and “Lifesaving Maneuvers,” July 31-Aug. 2) as well as one-night concerts by singer-songwriter/performance artist Holcombe Waller (Aug. 19), Keith Terry & Corposonic (Aug. 12), Dandelion Dancetheater’s ensemble Bandelion (Aug. 5) and San Jose Taiko with DJ Bangerz (Aug. 17).

In a biannual component of the festival called “Dance and Diaspora,” Namita Kapoor performs “Hindu Swing” on a double bill (Aug. 22 & 23) with the Cuban salsa group Rueda con Ritmo, and there’s a “Theater Unplugged” program with Antoine Hunter and Milissa Payne Bradley (Aug. 24).

Thinking about her own relationship to music, Kate Weare—a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow for choreography who has danced all over the world and choreographed in collaboration with many musicians—muses, “Sometimes music can function as a sonic seal. In dance, the movement is the primary source of meaning, and the music supports it. [But] it’s easy to have sound become primary.” What interests her is when music and movement “converse.”

That’s what she is aiming for in the third (and new) section of a three-part piece called “Still Life with Avalanche,” one of two pieces from her 10-year-old company’s repertoire that she’ll present at the festival. She created the last third of “Still Life” with Brenda Way, who found the music, by Missy Mazzoli, for the section. (The music also gives the entire piece its new title.) “The music has a more narrative quality than where I tend to lean,” observes Weare. “It kind of frames the piece as close as it can come to a story [while] also being abstract.” The first section is a one-woman solo with music, by Wolfgang Capellari, that functions like a backdrop. It is followed by a duet (for two men) with music by French composer Gerard Pesson, which, she says, “has a slightly tribal quality, driving, witty, cerebral.” And the final section—in which the three dancers “have it out between the three of them”—is about the psychodynamics of relationships in which there is a struggle to hold onto autonomy. The entire piece has a lot of rhythm, as is usual for Weare.

The other piece on the bill is her duet “Drop Down,” for a man and woman, which she describes as a tango of sexuality, a power play. In her own company it was performed by older dancers; here, with ODC’s younger pair, there’s a different perspective: “this really reckless, unaware-of-consequences energy.”

It’s interesting to note that Weare’s background—as the daughter of artists—informs her work as a choreographer. Her parents held figure drawing sessions at home, so for her, naked bodies were normal. Her father brought students to mortuaries to draw cadavers, so they could understand how to depict lack of life. “I grew up seeing old bodies, young bodies, dead bodies,” she comments, “so I can speak about so much more than being young and beautiful.” Those experiences gave her the capacity to go deep below the surface—something she wants her dancers to do, too.

For Alaska-born John Heginbotham, a dancer who formed his own company in 2011, his connection to music can manifest in various ways. For the festival, he chose two works from his repertoire: “Closing Bell” (a quartet set to a large-scale orchestral score, “Central Market,” by Tyondni Braxton) and “Twin” (a piece for six dancers named for its music, by electronic composer Aphex Twin, in an acoustic version by the new-music orchestra Alarm Will Sound), both commissioned by Mikhail Baryshnikov and the Jerome Robbins Foundation. Both were inspired by the music.

He will also perform in an “Airmail Dance,” a solo piece scored by the late Bay Area dancemaker Remy Charlip. Charlip’s Airmail Dances are basically brief written “suggestions” for choreography; the collaboration is completed by the performer.

In “Closing Bell,” Heginbotham says, the dance mirrors very specifically, very rhythmically, what is happening musically. “Twin,” he says, is a little more open: “In the central section the music is more of a soundscape rather than melodic or a repetitive rhythm that can be identified. It creates more of a scene or environment, and the dance is also more atmospheric.”

Heginbotham, who danced often in the Bay Area (as well as nationally and internationally) when he was with the Mark Morris Dance Group, sees this as a second home. His company has performed in such places as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and at Jacob’s Pillow (where he won a 2014 award), and he has collaborated with composers and ensembles.

He compares the different ways he choreographs, with and without existing music (and sometimes in collaboration with a composer who usually works separately from him). With existing music, he says, “I sort of have a structure laid out for me that I can then place things upon—an existing scaffolding.” When working in the studio silently, “I find I’m not constrained by rhythms or melodies that are already laid out. The few circumstances where I start with silence, the movement I create is more impulsive-looking; the rhythms being presented are internal, not predictable in the same ways as with an existing score. I’m usually overwhelmed with the number of choices I have. In silence I’m reacting only to myself, so I have to design my own structure—which is exciting and certainly challenging.”

Talking about balance between music and movement reminds him of the most important lesson he has learned about dance-making: walking the line between being prepared and being sensitive to what’s happening in the moment. “Dance is now,” he says. “That’s true for the audience, too. We’re never the same; we’re experiencing everything as brand new.”

For some choreographers, the rhythms found within the score are the driving force. Namita Kapoor’s festival performance is a combination of Bharatanatyam and jazz. The piece celebrates “father of theatrical jazz” Jack Cole, who choreographed for Broadway and film in the 1930s and influenced such stars as Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse.

Kapoor, a body percussionist (in Keith Terry’s company), tap dancer and Bollywood dancer who toured nationally in Broadway’s “Bombay Dreams,” notes that it was Cole who brought the techniques of Indian dance to the modern vocabulary of his own mentors, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, calling it “Hindu swing,” and inspiring Kapoor, a first-generation American from the East Bay, to follow in his footsteps. “I was going down the traditional tap dance route,” she says, “and realized my cultural roots were missing.” Kapoor is a visual artist too, whose work is informed by how she dances. “My paintings have a lot of movement,” she says. “It’s all about music, about listening to how a painting tells a story.”

With “Hindu Swing” as a title, Kapoor’s piece—including her own choreography and also some choreography by her teachers—tells the history and evolution of Cole’s work, using jazz and classical Indian dancers (12 including Kapoor) plus a live music accompaniment by 15 jazz and Indian musicians together. Included in the piece are bits of vocal narration and some body percussion. “People have different ideas of what ‘jazz’ means,” says Kapoor. This piece, she emphasizes, is strictly about bringing the style back to its origins, its roots—and that means “it’s all about Cole,” about showcasing the relationship and the similarities between the two classical forms, one quintessentially American, the other North Indian. On the ODC dance faculty, Kapoor will also teach the style for dancers and novices, in a class (on Aug, 2) that promises to incorporate jazz basics “with a variety of Bollywood moves inspired from traditional Indian dance forms to . . . samba, mambo, hip-hop, African and more.”

Ultimately, says Bolingbroke, “Music Moves” aims to create an atmosphere of open-mindedness: allowing audiences to experience the many different ways that music illuminates movement and movement in turn affects how we hear music—the endlessly variable interplay between the two art forms.

July 31-August 24

Music Moves

ODC Theater

3153 17th St., 415/863-9834

http://www.odctheater.org