Dance and Music Together at the Constella Festival

This year marks the fifth season for the Constella Festival, the kaleidoscopic music and arts festival founded by renowned violinist Tatiana Berman.

Apr 13, 2016 at 12:46 am
click to enlarge Dancers James Cunningham and Sirui Liu
Dancers James Cunningham and Sirui Liu

This year marks the fifth season for the Constella Festival, the kaleidoscopic music and arts festival founded by renowned violinist Tatiana Berman. Known as an enthusiastic arts advocate, Berman aims to present performances in fresh ways, working especially to partner with other arts organizations in order to connect with audiences who might otherwise stay away.

The festival runs Friday through April 23, with a variety of performances around town, including the movement-centric Constella Dance: Old World, Modern Expressions on April 16 at the Harriet Tubman Theater, an intimate space in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

“We are an eclectic festival, presenting contrasting experiences,” Berman says. “Dance is one of the artistic expressions through which we connect with our audience. I like to work with choreographers who are excited about creating new works, and I like to work with musicians live in performance.”

Constella Dance features seven classical and modern dance works from five choreographers: Cincinnati Ballet dancers Jake Casey, Taylor Carrasco and James Cunningham, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company associate artistic director Crystal Michelle and Cincinnati Ballet resident choreographer Adam Hougland. Dancers come from the Cincinnati Ballet and its second company, CBII, and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. Musical compositions (both live and recorded) are by Béla Bartók, Max Baillie, Ludovico Einaudi, Julia Kent, Bobby McFerrin and Steve Reich. Berman and cellist Erin Patterson are slated to play onstage with the dancers and other musicians.

DCDC dancers will perform “Ascension” at Constella Dance, in which both the recorded music (commissioned from Baillie, a British violinist and violist with dance training in his background) and choreography (by DCDC’s Michelle) are world premieres. Berman says she and others will be performing selected Bartók duos — one of Baillie’s inspirations — live in between sections of the Baillie score.

Michelle’s choreography style has been influenced by every form of dance she’s studied, including traditional African dance, classical ballet and Graham technique. “I spend a lot of time drawing out which qualities are most appropriate for the music and intention of the piece,” she says. “I love movement that blends Africanist aesthetics and rhythms with classical rhythms and style.”

In “Ascension,” Michelle has created an intimate piece to match the space. “I wanted to explore language and conversation with this work,” she says. “It is a series of short duets that explore what it means for things to be missed in communication.”

Choreographer Cunningham, who has presented at Constella previously, has more responsibility this year. “Ancora,” the Latin word for anchor, investigates through movement a woman who is apologizing to a man and to others. Emotions range from courage and awkwardness to tenderness, Cunningham says. Einaudi’s music is played live onstage by a piano and string trio.

For “Not Lost,” a world premiere set to a serenade from Hungarian composer Ernö Dohnányi, Cunningham wanted to make sure the style and subject matter looked different from “Ascension.”

“The characters in the piece are two couples and an extra woman,” he says. “The idea is finally that it is OK to not be in a relationship, and that community can support that decision.”

Michelle also has another work in the program called “The Difficulties of Flying,” drawn from the DCDC repertory to recorded music from McFerrin, Reich and Daniel Bernard Roumain.

“ ‘Flying’ is about the feeling we all have when we’re trying to make something manifest in our lives,” she says. “The human part of all of us that wants to find a way to soar.”

Michelle says she thinks audiences will relate to the ideas of failure and triumph and experience a relationship between language, intimacy and humanity.


EXPRESSIONS is onstage Saturday at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center as part of the Constella Festival, which runs Friday through April 23. More info: