Another amazing month of dance is upon us, as the Virginia Arts Festival continues and other performances and classes abound.
I had the opportunity to reach out to Sam Black, one of the Mark Morris Dance Group’s company dancers, who gave me some insight into the company and into this piece.
AltDaily: How long have you been dancing with the Mark Morris Dance Group?
Sam Black: I joined the company as an apprentice in 2006, and became a full company member in 2007.
What initially drew you to dance with the company?
I grew up watching MMDG perform at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, CA, where I’m from. I can’t say precisely what first made me want to dance with the company, because there were many things – the musicality and rhythm of his dances, the sense of community I felt watching his dances, the accessibility and friendliness of the dancers onstage. It looked so fun and free, but with a certain seriousness too. I somehow knew it was important work.
How is dancing with MMDG different from dancing elsewhere?
I’ve danced for Mark way more than I’ve danced for anyone else, so this has been the bulk of my professional experience. Mark is incredibly specific about what he wants; where other choreographers often don’t talk about details, Mark thinks the details and specifics are the most important and interesting part of a dance. Otherwise it just ends up looking like a dance you’ve seen before, instead of something new and different. Also, the experience of dancing to live music has been beyond wonderful.
The performance that will be taking place in our area is “Dido and Aeneas;” could you give us a little glimpse of this story? What is the overall tone of the piece?
“Dido and Aeneas” is a dance by Mark Morris, set to the opera by Henry Purcell, and based on the classic story by Virgil. It is a love story between Dido, the Queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, Trojan hero. A jealous sorceress plots to thwart their love; there are witches, spirits, and sailors. The opera, while mostly a tragedy, has plenty of moments of levity and nuttiness.
“Dido and Aeneas” incorporates operatic vocals into the live music. Is this unique to this piece or are there other MMDG works in which live vocals are present?
Mark has made a number of dances to vocal music, although “Dido” is probably the one we perform most often. MMDG has a commitment to performing to live music in every single performance – the only pieces we do with taped music are ones in which the vocals would be nearly impossible to replicate live. For example, Mark made a dance called “Going Away Party” set to the last ever live recording of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
Because this is a narrative dance, the story is being told not just through the singing and libretto, but through the gestures and moves onstage. Mark developed a physical language that he uses to tell the story – every time the word “love” is sung, the dancers make the gesture for “love.” Ditto “fate,” “Carthage,” “smile,” etc. Another layer he added is that the gestures for “love” and “hate” are the same, maybe implying that the two are intricately related.
How much of an impact do these vocals make on the overall effect of “Dido and Aeneas?” Are they more influential to the story or to the emotion of the dance?
Because the music is always live, it’s slightly different every night. The musicians rehearse enough to get the piece consistent, but there are tiny differences in tone and dynamic and tempo in every performance. I think the result is that the entire performance is completely alive and present, since the dancers really can’t stop focusing for one second. With a narrative dance like “Dido,” those subtle changes of tone really infuse the dance with a range of emotions.
What response do you hope the audience will have to “Dido and Aeneas?” What would you like them to reflect on after the performance?
I hope this piece makes you think, or moves you, or makes you angry or sad, or makes you want to dance. Basically, there’s no wrong response to a performance – come in with an open mind, and know that whatever you feel afterwards, you’re right.
Another Arts Festival dance event will be an evening with the Richard Alston Dance Company. Launched at The Place in London in 1994, this company has been a strong presence in the contemporary dance world ever since. In this performance, RADC will be showcasing “An Italian in Madrid” and “Gypsy Mixture” by Alston, and “Tangent” which is a tango-inspired piece by Martin Lawrence. The show begins at 8pm at the Sandler Center on Saturday, May 6th.
The Governor’s School for the Arts will bring its dance, vocal, and instrumental music departments together for their Spring Dance Concert at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center. The show will feature “La Bayadere” and “Carmina Burana.” There will be three opportunities to see the performance: Thursday through Saturday, May 11th through the 13th at 8pm.
On May 19th and 20th, the Todd Rosenlieb Dance Company will perform a variety of contemporary dance pieces at their annual Spring Concert. The event will take place at the Benjack Studio Theater inside the TRDance Center at 8pm.
Lula Washington Dance Theatre returns to Hampton Roads as part of the Arts Festival dance series. Lula Washington founded the company in Los Angeles in 1980, and an affiliated dance school three years later. The contemporary dance repertoire incorporates aspects of African-American history and culture, and is a collection of works by Lula Washington and other choreographers such as Donald McKayle, Katherine Dunham, and Louis Johnson, just to name a few. The performance will take place at the Peebles Theatre at the Ferguson Center for the Arts on Friday, May 19th at 8pm.
“The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and it has the additional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs.”
– Charles Baudelaire
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