Perfect Pairings: Over the Rhine and the Cincinnati Ballet Collaborate

Cincinnati Ballet and storied Cincinnati band Over the Rhine (both beloved cultural icons locally and beyond) will share the stage this weekend at the Aronoff Center for three performances designed to draw fans of each.

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Cross-pollinating arts audiences is paramount in today's economically uncertain times. Case in point: Cincinnati Ballet and storied Cincinnati band Over the Rhine (both beloved cultural icons locally and beyond) will share the stage this weekend at the Aronoff Center for three performances designed to draw fans of each.

For artistic magic to happen, the right elements must come together musically and choreographically. For two married couples at the heart of Infamous Love Songs — which features choreography built around several Over the Rhine songs — the collaboration also requires merging elements of their professional and personal lives.

Over the Rhine’s founding core duo, Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, have been making music together for more than two decades and draw fans and praise from across the globe. They’re fresh off their first-ever tour of Japan and have been on the road for several U.S. dates in support of their latest release, The Long Surrender. Bergquist and Detweiler have also been married for nearly 15 years. Six top-notch musicians will play with the duo during OTR’s live performances during Love Songs.

The four seasoned choreographers are a diverse bunch — behind Love Songs movements are Broadway vets and local Exhale Dance Tribe founders Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard, the Ballet’s Associate Artistic Director Devon Carney and internationally acclaimed choreographer Donald Byrd.

The show might push the boundaries of regular ballet-goers’ expectations, but dance aficionados and the band’s fan base don’t seem so disparate.

“I think our audience is pretty diverse and pretty sophisticated,” Detweiler says, speaking via phone from Eau Claire, Wisc.

“They’re pretty cultured, all in all,” he adds, chuckling. “I know there’s a lot of excitement in our audience about these collaborations. I think there’s a little bit of an unknown there that’s exciting.”

Choreographic partners Zimmer and Hubbard, who have been married three years and together for 12, say they’re trusting in the unknown and having faith in that as a matter of process. Besides experiencing common time constraints, they are reconfiguring some choreography for the stage set-up and putting finishing touches on their five songs’ sensual, moody vignettes before opening night. They have utter faith in the dancers, too.

“The (Cincinnati Ballet) dancers are such a force to be reckoned with,” Hubbard says.

As longtime Over the Rhine fans, Zimmer and Hubbard had dreamed of collaborating with the band for years and introduced the Ballet to OTR’s music.

“I just feel like it’s such a beautiful marriage between the live music and the live dancing,” Hubbard says.

Speaking of marriage, Zimmer and Hubbard say they feel a special connection collaborating with another husband/wife duo. According to both couples, being married and working together presents unique challenges and rewards.

Hubbard says, “We’re very lucky because I think most couples would kill each other if they had that much of a working relationship along with every other relationship we have on every level.”

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Detweiler says, adding that friends in relationships have told them, “If we were together as much as you two are together, we’d kill each other inside of a week.”

Joking aside, both couples concur that great artistic chemistry lies at the heart of their partnerships, as well as the need to balance work and personal time.

“It’s been a challenge to balance a career and a marriage,” Detweiler says. “It’s something that we’ve had to continue to experiment with and grow into, but so far, so good. Karin’s a great partner, a great editor and, obviously, her voice has been a major inspiration to my writing.”

Zimmer says, “Sometimes it has to be about the compromise — just being really open to what’s coming through either one of us at any given time … wearing different caps, knowing when to switch in and out of our different roles, that is a delicate balance that is not always easy.”

“Especially when we tend to be workaholics,” Hubbard adds. “When do we stop thinking about work?”

Zimmer and Hubbard’s biggest concern about the collaboration was the feeling that Over the Rhine’s alluring music and performances might be too powerful, rendering the choreography merely extraneous adornment. If one element upstaged the other, Infamous Love Songs wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.

“It’s such a fine line to complement their music,” Hubbard admits. The show, he says, celebrates OTR’s music while “making beautiful pictures with the dancers and (creating) a beautiful union (without one element) taking away from the other.”

The choreographers also wanted to integrate the musicians more directly, so there’s a moment when the dancers jam with the band. But don’t expect to see Bergquist and Detweiler onstage in tights, dancing amongst the show’s trained, professional dancers. When asked if he and his wife dance, Detweiler says, “In the privacy of our kitchen, yes. In public, not so much.”

Detweiler says OTR had to slightly tweak how it approached performance for Love Songs, discovering that the musicians needed to have an awareness of the full production.

“You know, the only thing about all that activity (onstage) is, of course, we’ll have to make sure we don’t get so caught up in the moment that we get distracted and forget what we’re doing,” the multi-instrumentalist says. “But I don’t think that will be a problem.”

“I think the biggest challenge will just be to capture the spirit of what’s on the record in terms of our recordings, but also be present in the moment. We’ll want to let the songs breathe in the moment with the dancers. It’ll be a challenge, but we’re totally up for it.”

The confidence stems from experience. Playing music for dancers isn’t totally foreign to Detweiler: He paid his way through college partly by accompanying classes on piano at the Canton Ballet.

“I loved how the minute I began playing and the dancers started moving, it was like the music became three-dimensional,” he says. “It was almost like a small miracle happened in front of my eyes, and I loved that feeling.”

Bergquist has some more recent experience with the dance community, performing live with the Cincinnati Ballet as part of the company’s New Works studio shows last fall. As Bergquist played piano and sang live onstage during the production, Detweiler found it incredibly moving as he watched from the audience.

“I think the thing about music and dance is that both art forms are very much fueled by high emotion and putting the two together is just an easy, beautiful fit,” Detweiler says.

Cincinnati Ballet presents INFAMOUS LOVE SONGS with Over the Rhine at the Aronoff Center Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with an additional 2 p.m. performance Saturday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

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