on dancing while playing the cello…

Jon Silpayamanant as Shiva before performing with his dance/music duo, Secondhand, in Newport.  March 30, 2013

Jon Silpayamanant as Shiva before performing with his dance/music duo, Secondhand, in Newport, Kentucky. March 30, 2013

Even though my first formal entry into dancing with the cello was nearly a year ago when I worked with my dance/music project, Secondhand, it was in a performance where I played the role of a cello playing Shiva. Since Shiva is the “Lord of the Dance” my role with my artistic partner, Celeste, was a counterpoint to her role as a dancing Kali.

Back in 1996 I almost took an audition with Tales & Scales, a Musictelling company which involved the musicians telling stories for children while dancing and speaking the roles of their characters–if a member/character wasn’t actively speaking or doing a demanding dance number, then the member would be playing their instrument as accompaniment to the story. Often the dancing and choreography involved playing while dancing. Cellist, David Eby, had been a company member until the ’94-’95 season and presumably – had I taken and won the audition – I would have filled his role since many of the productions are designed for the instrumentalists at hand.

Laura Durrant dancing while playing the cello.  Photo by Brian Hartley

Laura Durrant dancing while playing the cello. Photo by Brian Hartley

Needless to say, I didn’t take the audition and I would eventually see the troupe in action around 2006 and talk a bit with the artistic director after the show.

Instead, after ’96 I practically quit playing the cello and moved into doing very experimental electronic music and designing/building/using found instruments as well as getting more heavily into performance art. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that I would start teaching children music on a regular basis (with Gymboree Play & Music) after having come back to the cello in mid 2003.

Jon Silpayamanant performing with Raks Makam at the Eifler Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. October 7, 2011.

Jon Silpayamanant performing with Raks Makam at the Eifler Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. October 7, 2011.

In addition to the performance art where I did a fair number of works that involved movement and dance, I had started taking workshops in world dance styles–my first actual dance performance was after workshop in West African Dancing with the late Prince Julius Adeniyi in 1995. After the workshop, all the participants were invited to show what they had learned in the class in an evening performance with his West African Music group. Most of my latest dance “training” has been through the Louisville Ethnic Dancers and a vast variety of folk dancing styles throughout the world that they regularly teach. I’ve also done some choreography with my Central Asian music/dance group, Raks Makam, though that didn’t involve me playing the cello while dancing though I was playing the Uzbek doira while doing some minimal choreography.

Other than the aforementioned David Eby, there are a few cellists who do actually dance while playing. I discovered Anne Davison a couple of years ago. Here is a video of her piece “What Comes of Letting Go”

and a video of her “My Undoing” (with James Hill)

Both Laura Durrant (see photo above) and Barnaby Tree dance while playing the cello as well though I haven’t found any videos which focus solely on that (though I haven’t done an extensive search of them yet).

Barnaby Tree dancing while playing the cello.

Barnaby Tree dancing while playing the cello.

Since I have done this type of performance and am very eager to explore it further (I may try doing some dance/cello work with my interactive video project, Camera Lucida), I thought it would be a nice counterpoint to my “on singing while playing the cello…” series. As in the singing series, I’ll explore some of the difficulties of this genre from the logistic as well as artistic side of things and hope to find many more examples of other cellists who are exploring the medium!

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