Music improv and Modern Dance…

I wasn’t sure how this would go as both genres (Music Improvisation and Modern Dance) have such a wide variety of directions they could be taken.  But I was pleasantly surprised by the final product.  The Moving Nows is a contemporary Improvisation ensemble based at the University of Louisville led by composer and improviser, John Ritz.  The Moving Collective is a Modern Dance Company based in Louisville.

The program included:

/+/<– by John Ritz

Quartet for Piano Solo by Leah Sproul

I See You by Joey Crane

Colors by Leah Fowler

Alice by James Young

malkovri vin by Jason Palamara

either You are Sick for centuries of Hit by Easter candy by Joey Crane

This brought me back to my post undergrad days (much as the last UofL concert I saw with Lisa Bost) which is a good thing and a bad thing.  Good because it’s always a pleasure to find students willing to step outside the box a bit and, most especially, collaborate with dancers; bad because in many ways, it did sound too much like what I had been involved with–whcih itself already sounded like what had been old hat by the sixties with the post minimal/serial school and post-fluxus/Cage/Darmstadt school sound.

This show did have a relatively unified structure which does distinguish it a bit–it felt like a full length ‘theatrical production’ that just happen to have tons of aleatoric and free improv elements to it.  The dry erase board announcements of the pieces was a nice touch since the flow of the performance wasn’t halted (only brief ‘interludes’ in between pieces) though Jason Palamara’s malkovri vin piece never got that treatment (unless I completely missed it?) and when the board was raised for Joey Crance’s either You are Sick for centuries or Hit by Easter candy it was, um, blank.  Does that make it a reference to John Cage or to Robert Rauschenburg?  i’ll leave that to the reader to decide–hah!

John Ritz’s piece was conducted by the composer himself–after the show the audience got the opportunity to get on stage and learn how to interpret the conductor cues in an impromptu performance (very nice touch).  As his back was to us during the ensemble and dance performance of the piece we didn’t get to see what those instructional cues were so it was great to see hwat he had developed for the piece.  It was also great to be onstage to see portions of the various scores used for some of the pieces.  I had forgotten how funky graphic scores can be, and how much fun they can be to interpret (I’ll have to post my graphic score from “Tao of Mu: Better Living Through Non Lexical Communication” sometime in the future once i find it).

Leah Sproul’s work “Quartet for Piano Solo” is an delightful play on words as the quartet of musicians played on one (solo) piano.  one was underneath beating it with percussion mallets; two were strumming and plucking the strings inside the piano; while Leah herself was playing at the keyboard.

Joey Crane’s work was one of the most interesting from a visual standpoint as a dancer was paired off with a musician throughout the two sections.  So each dancer individually responded to her musician’s music throughout which created an interesting visual polyphony to contrast with the more open and chaotic group dance improvisations that happened for the earlier pieces.

Leah Fowler’s piece was a different take on using gestures as visual cues for musicians in that she used colored cards to cue different sections.  The musicians were “reading” from scores (probably “interpreting” from scores would be a more appropriate term) though it didn’t always seem like they were uniformly changing textures with teh colored cards–or maybe i was missing some of the other visual cues as i did notice Leah sometimes pointing to specific musicians before or after brandishing a card.  I’m still not sure what the significance of the teapot cue was supposed to be but the hat cue (the final cutoff) was dramatically apparent.

“Alice” by James Young was probably the ‘most accessible’ from a sonic standpoint to the audience, but in some ways it was the more irritable of the works to listen to–the lack of dancers may have had some part to this.  Not having something to distract me from the sounds meant that i couldn’t watch how dancers were interpreting what they were hearing and just listen to the sounds themselves.  i found myself being constantly drawn back to the piano ostinato in the first part as it was a measure of 3+5 and I kept internally playing an Arabic malfouf to it in my head.  The instrumentalists were set in three pairs for this one–piano/violin; sax/bassoon; violin/cello.  Which made for some interesting duos throughout the piece.

Jason Palamara’s piece never got the dry erase board treatment and it was hard to tell how closely the musicians were watching his conducting cues as it actually seemed like for the most part their heads were buried in music.  There were very audible textural changes but I’m not sure how successful it really was–The dancers seemed to be more interactive during this piece than in most of the past works.  Which made this set piece work much better from that standpoint.

I am drawing a blank for Joey’s second piece right now–I might need some sleep (did I just type that??–hah!)–but the slowly dimming lights was a nice way to signal the end of the concert as tehre were no breaks in between works other than the short musical saw; circuit bent keyboard/radio; and didgeridoo sections.   A nice touch.

John Ritz’s electric guitar and computer work were very nice, subtle and inobtrusive throughout the entire show.  It could have been too easy for either of those instruments to overpower all the other acoustic instruments, but says something about John’s skill as an collaborative musician that it didn’t.

The Moving Collective were a pleasure to finally see perform.  Glad to know there is a modern dance troupe in the Louisville area–and that they are willing to work with musicians for live collaborations!  There needs to be more dancers willing to dance to live music in all genres!

I look forward to future shows by both of these groups–either in collaboration or on their own.

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