Being myself a composer who’s worked a LOT with dancers, I can say that there’s not much more synergistic a musical experience. While the communication can sometimes be strange and strained, with mutual openess and patience all of that gives way to a work where both arts can penetrate and change the other in remarkable and surprising ways.

Composer Chris Becker (whose wonderful CD Saints and Devils got a lot of play on my stereo last year) is right now collaborating with choreographer Sasha Soreff on a piece for an upcoming performance in late June. As he works through it, Chris is going to try to blog a bit about the whole process. It promises to be an informative read, so check in there regularly.

7 Responses to “Architecting about Dance”
  1. jccombs says:

    Thanks for the head’s up. Chris’ music is outstanding & highly recommended.

  2. Chris Becker says:

    Whoa – thank you! I’m very humbled. I will definitely keep the current blogging about this particular project consistent.

  3. I’ve been wanting to collaborate with dancers/choreographers for some time, and once I find the right collaborator, I want to make sure it goes well.

    Any suggestions?

  4. Steve Layton says:

    Listen to the things they personally like listening to, and what they’ve been using to dance to in the past. Often, they’ve already been practicing with some found music, and might tell you they “want something like that”. By abstracting, you’ll often find that there’s more than one way to get something “like that” (maybe on the surface very different from what the dancer first thought is).

    Most dancers (non-musical ones anyway) describe music more in certain shapes, ‘atmospheres’, colors and stresses; you need to take your head to that place, too, see and communicate in what they know, not what you know. What you come up with may be on the surface very different from what they initially pictured, but really on this deeper level may be working just right. You need to be able to explain/show that in their own terms (all this applies rather well with film/video, too). Watch them dance; see the kinds of activity, form and flow they favor. Put yourself in the ‘movers’ position once in a while (hell, try a little movement yourself, just to get the feeling! You’ll look like a dork, but so what?)

    Most of the fussy bits don’t matter except as part of the overall vibe and texture; the dancer’s looking at a few bigger streams, feeling the shape, the count, the general energy. You can play with almost anything at will for your own musical ends, as long as those main threads are clear for them.

    Stay involved with the dance and dancers. you can squirrel yourself away, finish the music and bring it in full-born, but it’s usually much more effective to show bits of this idea or that at intervals. Your ideas can spark them in new ways, and their feedback can shape where your own music’s going

  5. Chris Becker says:

    Matthew,

    Did you happen to meet Dr. Rocky Reuter when you were studying and later teaching in Ohio? Rocky was my composition at Capital University. And I met Thomas Wells although I’m sure he doesn’t remember me.

    The first collaborations I did with dancers were in Columbus with students from the OSU department of dance.

    The only thing I might add to Steve’s excellent response is that it is helpful if the choreographer is already a fan of your music and connects to some degree with your particular idiosyncratic vision. I myself don’t do well as a “human jukebox” where one is asked to write music to order. I am a good collaborator, but I also have a strong compositional voice (for better or worse, it’s mine to own…) and if a choreographer isn’t digging it in a semi-deep way before collaborative work begins – I’m likely to find myself in an awkward even mentally draining situation.

    Sasha Soreff heard samples of my music online in advance of contacting me, and she told me specific things she liked about my music during our first phone conversation (the word “grit” was one she used which I appreciated…). She wasn’t looking for Handel (who I love…). She liked my sound.

    And of course, it works both ways. You the composer ideally should feel the same enthusiasm for their choreography. Twyla Tharp in her usual no BS way describes all contemporary dance as “simply the refinement of human movement…walking, running, and jumping.” So what your reaction to dance is completely valid – even if it is new to you as a medium.

    Still, it’s ultimately a leap of faith for both the choreographer and the composer when they begin collaborating. But that leap is part of the fun.

  6. Chris and Steve,

    Thank you both for the insightful comments–no, Chris, I haven’t met Dr. Reuter, but I know his work. Any dance collaboration dreams that I have are just that–dreams. At Ohio State, I *should* have gotten myself over to that great dance department to get involved… but there isn’t time for everything, I suppose.

    I greatly appreciate your suggestions, though, and hopefully I will get a chance to put them to use in the future!

  7. Chris Becker says:

    The dance score I was blogging about is up for free download at http://www.beckermusic.com/theothershoe.html if anyone’s interested. The score features Jonathan Kane on drums and metal, Daniel Kelly on keyboards, and Lenae Harris on cello. Enjoy :)

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