Tag Archives: contemporary dance

Groove-Fish

Rufusweb

….. a pulse, a heartbeat, something breathing, that is part of us and we of it.

On April 23 & 24 the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble will premiere GROOVE-FISH, a new work for dancers and two double bassists written by Grammy-nominated composer and bassist Rufus Reid. Mr. Reid will premiere the work with MBDE’s long time collaborator, composer and bassist Thomas Helton. GROOVE-FISH is the second movement in UNSANTO, a series of works that explore changes to the food we eat and how they affect us.

In ancient Norse and Celtic mythologies, the salmon is a mystical fish that possesses incredible wisdom. It is represented as an all-knowing creature that acts as a guide to understanding and truth. In our current world, with our modern ideologies and our pragmatic tendencies, it is still impressive to know that salmon have the ability to return hundreds of miles exactly to the place where they were born in order to spawn, and do so with incredible accuracy.

Often referred to as Frankensalmon, GMO salmon, recently approved by the FDA, is a fat, bloated, genetically modified fish engineered for greater yield and not to reproduce, although this fish still has the ability to do so. Scientists the world over agree that it is not possible to fully contain GMO salmon and prevent them from mating with real salmon, making possible in future the extinction of both salmon and trout. The GMO salmon itself has been tested with higher levels of allergens and hormones, so its safety for consumption has not yet been determined; the testing of GMO products is not done by the FDA but rather by the companies who manufacture them. Two million people complained to the FDA following its approval of GMO salmon. Food & Water Watch just announced that it is suing the FDA on the grounds that they don’t really have the legality to approve a genetically modified living creature.

As I mentioned in my previous essay on SKAMATO, my work on the subject of GMO’s deals with the emotional and human impact rather than the specifics of the science. I feel it is our birthright as humans not to have a part of our natural world destroyed for the sake of profit. When we compromise those elements of our existence, we also compromise our internal life. Imagine a world without trout. One of the most significant works of literature for me is the Hemingway short story “Big Two-Hearted River” where the main character recovers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome by going trout fishing. I don’t need to be a fisherman to benefit by knowing the trout are there, to know that once a human being saved himself by understanding he was part of this amazing world and that it still existed.

Strangely and perhaps interestingly, I identify with real salmon under threat. In my own fragile ecosystem of art and culture, I see our transformative powers as performing artists, and the ability to heal and sustain the human soul, sagging under the weight of commercialism and a kind of adulation of populism and corporate marketing culture. As if art would do well to borrow ideas from its often sociopathic corporate cousin and shift its focus to making money and sustaining itself in the market place at all costs. This negates the entire purpose of art, which is to challenge, to inspire, to incite, to reach us through deep channels of emotion and thought. Art makes people smart. It exists outside the world of commerce for a reason: it exists for the benefit of humanity, not to profit from it.

Dance is perhaps one of the most non-sustainable art forms because of the many hours needed to prepare it. It often has its best impact in intimate concert hall spaces where the audience can be close. It’s also a fragile and difficult habitat for its inhabitants to navigate, requiring many hours to maintain one’s instrument, and a strong mind and focus, yet a vulnerable and open heart.

Rufus Reid’s music for GROOVE-FISH is intricate and changing, with sections that propel the dance forward with buoyancy and accent, and sections of a slow tenderness, but always with an underlying and soulful pleading. The sound of the two basses playing arco together in the ending of each section is intensely moving, as if it is the sound of the natural world breathing slowly and continuously, reminding us it is here. It reaffirms for me that no matter what goes on around us, these strange waters are where we as artists were born to be, and here we will stay.

The idea behind GROOVE-FISH is that beneath the surface of any community, there could be a stunning life force and energy that can nurture people far beyond what we think of as its boundaries. For me the dancers and the two double bassists in GROOVE-FISH represent creatures of a world of poetry, a world deep within our consciousness. These creatures communicate, through movement and music, a groove, a pulse, a heartbeat, something breathing, that is part of us and we of it. Intangible and subtle, and yet an essential part of our human existence.

As Arthur Miller wrote in Time Bends: “We are all connected, even the trees.”

The Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble performs with special guest Rufus Reid. Saturday April 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday April 24 at 3 p.m. MATCH, Matchbox 2, 3400 Main Street, Houston TX 77002. Click here for tickets and more info:https://matchouston.org/events/rufus-reid-premieres-groove-fish

The program includes SKAMATO. Read More about Skamato here.

The performance also include the TRAIL OF FORBIDDEN WORDS, and new music from the

RUFUS REID/TIM HAGANS quintet.

Performers for April 23 & 24 Performances:
RUFUS REID, THOMAS HELTON, double bass and Sousaphone
ROBERTA CORTES, ROBIN GILBERT, BRIT WALLIS, MICHELE BRANGWEN, dancers
TIM HAGANS, trumpet
SETH PAYNTER, saxophone
JOE HERTENSTEIN, drums and percussion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hemingway & Rain Girl

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The premiere of RAIN GIRL, with choreography and text by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans, was presented at the Village Zendo in New York City by the FONT Festival and Village Zendo Arts. RAIN GIRL was filmed for ARTCAST Season 2 in the Duffy Performance Space at the Mark Morris Dance Center and on location in New York.

RAIN GIRL is inspired by Hemingway’s short story Big Two-Hearted River. This story, first published in 1925, seems on the surface to be about a young man who goes fishing alone. It’s very subtly written, but we come to understand that the character is recovering from something traumatic. He is trying to heal himself. We are never told from what, but we can surmise he was in World War I, based on when the story was written. Its abstractness, however, could place it in any time and could conjure almost any situation from which one would need to recover.

When I reread the story recently, the last line made me cry. I think because it gave a poetry and a dignity to the universal need we all have to rejuvenate.

RAIN GIRL was also designed as a feature for dancer Robin Gilbert. Robin loves the rain and so the rain in RAIN GIRL is intended as a positive image and sound. The dance and music, like the Hemingway story, recount a journey back to feeling whole that has already begun.

For me personally, in the both Hemingway’s story and in the dance work, the river is the symbol for the life force. The river is always there, running through you, but sometimes you can’t feel it. What reading Hemingway has so often done for me, throughout my life, is reconnected me with the sheer force and beauty of being alive. I step into something so stunningly powerful and good.

ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 4: RAIN GIRL will premiere on Sunday November 30 at 8 p.m. ET on YouTube.com/brangwendance. You can watch ARTCAST episodes anytime after broadcast on youtube.com/brangwendance, or on brangwendance.org/

Still Dancers Displaying Their Exquisite Shapes

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The Quantum Bass Center is a unique space that sells and repairs acoustic basses, and offers masterclasses in bass performance. Bassist Elizabeth Steves, who serves as its director, founded the center as a resource for the highest quality equipment and education for bassists. Located in the historic Midtown Art Center building in Houston, the Quantum Bass Center has two showrooms filled with basses from many different time periods, two smaller salon rooms used for private lessons, and a repair workshop down the hall. In August 2014, the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble presented live performances in this space. The dance and music were created spontaneously in the moment by all the performers, based on concepts designed in turn by different ensemble members. These improvisations were inspired by space, and fueled by our connection to each other and the audience.

Three elements come together in performance: the performers, the audience and the space. When a performer walks out onto the stage, they can feel the audience and the audience can feel them. If the channels are open on both sides of the curtain so to speak, no matter the size of the concert venue, it’s an intimate moment. The mysterious bond between performer and audience that occurs in live performance is difficult to accurately describe; it’s a group experience and yet also intensely personal, and it is that dichotomy that gives it an other-worldly quality.

I find that the third element of space, however, is even more intangible. Although its not often discussed, every stage or performance space has its own vibe that it communicates to performer and audience alike. It’s inexplicable but some spaces lend them themselves to performance and what constitutes this is much more than architectural. As a performing organization we are looking for places where we can connect with our audience. We are looking for spaces that will speak to us.

Maybe it was because the rooms were filled with basses from many different time periods; or the fact that the center was started out of Elizabeth Steves’ passion for her art form; or the poetry of knowing that just down the hall, that which is broken is carefully restored by hand, but we knew immediately that the Quantum Bass Center was an ideal place to perform. It embraced us and the audience in its two lovely main rooms. Tall upright basses lined two of the walls, like audience members in standing room only, or still dancers displaying their exquisite shapes – you decide.

The first of two episodes of ARTCAST created at the Quantum Bass Center airs this Sunday at 8 p.m. E.T. on YouTube.com/brangwendance. It features Lindsey McGill, dancer; Thomas Helton, bass; and Seth Paynter, saxophone.

Please remember that following each broadcast, episodes are available for viewing any time on YouTube.com/brangwendance or brangwendance.org

The Lelias

The Lelias

The film critic and scholar Ray Carney surmised that the work of independent filmmaker John Cassavetes was not given the critical acclaim it deserved because his films required the viewer to become involved. With most films, we observe the action from a safe distance. It may be a moving and powerful story, but we are still watching a story and able to stay outside the frame so to speak. We are voyeurs. With the films of John Cassavetes, you are in the room with the characters. This is for me a kind of cinema paradise. I feel like I am experiencing life, with all its incredible complexities and contradictions and mystery.

IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, a new film with choreography by me and music by Tim Hagans, tributes Cassavetes’ first film SHADOWS. Released in1959, SHADOWS is the story of 3 siblings in New York City: Hugh, a jazz singer; Ben a jazz musician, and Lelia, a painter. Shot in black and white, we can see that the siblings have varying skin colors. One of the many points Cassavetes was trying to make in SHADOWS was that color was a question of perception and not reality. The film is about the emotional journey of the central character of Lelia. Her journey is a human journey, and therefore a universal one.

Lelia is the youngest character in the film. She is energetic and hopeful, moving in literary circles of people who see no color, until she meets a man who courts her and wins her affection. They become lovers and this is her first love experience. The young man becomes alarmed, however, when he meets her oldest brother, the dark-skinned Hugh, and realizes the woman he is having an affair with is black. Lelia is devastated at his reaction. She murmurs “I love you, doesn’t that mean anything.” Perhaps those words are key to understanding SHADOWS and all of Cassavetes’ films to come. He was continually exploring our human need for love and the power of love, and our turning away from it. Our turning away from what we crave most, for the most absurd of reasons.

It’s impossible to watch SHADOWS and not fall in love with the character of Lelia. When Tim Hagans wrote the music for IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, he wrote it from her perspective. It’s a journey of what its like to discover the unfairness of life and then to come out on the other side and move forward. The musicians are expressing her emotional narrative when they perform the music. And so in making the dance, I decided to make the choreography follow the same narrative. Rather than a work where the different performers represent different characters in the film, we all instead represent Lelia. So we have Lelias of different genders and ages.

The middle brother Ben, runs through the city with his two buddies, and the only conflict they experience is their youth and their desires against the world in general. There are no issues of skin color. Scholars have written that Ben is passing for white, but to me it’s more that his 2 buddies see no color. They are just friends. I was on the subway across from 4 happy, bubbling teenagers having an animated discussion about skin color, of which they represented the many shades of the characters in SHADOWS from the snow-white lover of Lelia to the dark-skinned Hugh. It was as if they were discussing as insignificant a descriptor as hair or eye color. This seems indicative of Cassavetes’ idea that loosing the openness of youth is to the detriment of adulthood. I used the feeling of the boys in SHADOWS as they bound through the New York City streets — budding hipsters — also in the choreography.

We all suffer to some degree the pain of being judged by what is perceived on the surface about us, rather than the essence of our beings. People’s insecurities make them ostracize people for a variety of reasons, reasons that exist in their minds rather than in reality. If we all some day in future are the same color, will society find some other equally unreasonable thing to use as justification for what the playwright Arthur Miller so eloquently called ‘the breaking of charity” with each other.

Lelia moves forward out of her disappointment. She moves forward awkwardly and she is changed inside, yet in many ways she is just as vibrant as before, but in a different way. As Tim Hagans said when discussing the music, she emerges as a mature person. The choreography returns to something that is fluid but a little broken. We cannot erase our past, and sometimes it breaks us. So we try to move forward and one way we can do that is by finding each other.

You can watch SHADOWS in its entirety on YouTube. If you type in “Cassavetes SHADOWS” in the YouTube search engine, it will come up. Like all great art, SHADOWS makes us look a little deeper at each other, and ourselves.

We hope you will also join us for our new film IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, Sunday November 9 at 8 p.m. ET on youtube.com/brangwendance

Please remember if you miss the broadcast, you can still watch the episode any time on YouTube.com/brangwendance or on brangwendance.org.