This Year’s Winning Classical Collaboration

There’s nothing “alleged” about my choice for 2015’s most exciting Classical music event. No other performance came close to concert:nova’s collaboration with Elementz’s Studio Kre8v.

click to enlarge concert:nova musicians rehearse at Elementz.
concert:nova musicians rehearse at Elementz.

There’s nothing “alleged” about my choice for 2015’s most exciting Classical music event. No other performance came close to concert:nova’s collaboration with Elementz’s Studio Kre8v for brilliant musical and dance performances of John’s Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams in April.

It was one of the first performances at the newly renovated Woodward Theater. The sold-out crowd was a demonstration of how to draw a widely diverse audience, who gave the performances a prolonged standing ovation.

Adams calls his suite of 10 pieces for string quartet and prepared piano “alleged” because “the steps for them had yet to be invented.” The performances from Studio Kre8v and the Millennium Robots would have changed his mind and maybe even the composition’s title.

This marked the first time Hip Hop choreography was set to Adams’ music, and it was so perfect that I was amazed no other choreographer came up with it earlier. The dances seemed to flow organically out of each piece, tapping into the music’s humor and emotional core.

Alleged Dances was on my top-10 list from the inception of concert:nova nine years ago,” Artistic Director Ixi Chen says via email. “Because the music is so rhythmic and percussive and energetic, we wanted to incorporate street-style dance.”

“Many of us saw Elementz’s dancers with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra or the Cincinnati Ballet, and we immediately knew they’d be a perfect fit,” she continues.

Derrek Burbridge works with Studio Kre8v and Julius Jenkins choreographs for Millennium Robots. Both say working with Adams’ 10-part suite and a string quartet was a 180 from working with a large orchestra or a ballet company.

“When we performed with the CSO and the Ballet, there was a full orchestra with percussion and it was easier,” Burbridge says. “It was also more entertainment at face value. This was different because we really did our homework.

“I just tried to relate to the music,” he says. “Each selection carried a different story, and that’s what we tried to grasp onto. Before we put one step down, we just really tried to figure out what made sense to us.”

For both artists, the priority was to showcase as many forms of street culture as possible. “We made all those things fit with the music,” Jenkins says. That included verbally dazzling spoken-word presentations delivered by young artists Bri Middlebrooks and Timo Andres.

“We didn’t have much time,” Jenkins says. “As soon as we set it, they had to learn it, and then we moved on to the next thing.”

Dancers and musicians inspired each other’s performances, starting in rehearsal. “Working with live music allowed the dancers to really engage and say, ‘OK, now I get it,’ ” Jenkins says. “Hearing small things like the movement of the bow across the strings got them excited. Me, too!”

The excitement was clearly shared by quartet members Eric Bates, Rachel Frankenfeld, Christian Colberg and Ted Nelson. Their performance of this challenging work — what Chen says is one of the more difficult scores in chamber repertoire — created an extraordinary synthesis of music and the movement onstage.

“More than anything else, we wanted to show that street-style dancing is a living, breathing, viable art that people put a lot of work into developing,” Jenkins says. “We want audiences to accept street-style as a dance form that can sustain a show on its own.”Both Burbridge and Jenkins express great pride in their dancers and agree that it was transformative for everyone involved. And they want to do it again. Let’s hope that happens.Included in a Vimeo of the performance is Mars (Mario Miller) reciting “Purpose,” whose final lines speak to Elementz’s experience:

“So let’s strum our chords/until our fingers callus/and let’s sound our horns/and take every challenge/for we are the composition/and every vibration/in this piece/serves its purpose/what’s yours?”

CONTACT ANNE ARENSTEIN: [email protected]

Anne Arenstein

Anne Arenstein is a frequent contributor to CityBeat, focusing on the performing arts. She has written for the Enquirer, the Cincinnati Symphony, Santa Fe Opera and Cincinnati Opera, and conducted interviews for WVXU's Around Cincinnati. In 2009, Anne was named an NEA Fellow in Classical Music and Opera Journalism...
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