DANCECHAMBERDANCE breaks barriers between art forms

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 10:36pm

Stephanie Guralnik

Stephanie Guralnik Buy this photo

“Pockets of Silence at the Glorified Disco.” Fourteen School of Music, Theatre & Dance students stare at this strange amalgamation of words, amazed (and perhaps a little intimidated) by the fact that they have named a show they haven’t even created yet. 

“They did a photo shoot almost immediately after, where they made a poster for the show,” Assistant Professor of Dance Charli Brissey added in an interview with The Daily. “There was suddenly this strange camaraderie for a show that no one had made yet.”

This is what the first day of class looked like for DANCECHAMBERDANCE, a five week mini course that is expanding and testing the definitions of dance, chamber music and collaboration. In SMTD there has been an increasing interest in these collaborative, interdepartmental classes. Among an emerging gaggle of such classes, DANCECHAMBERDANCE has come forth as an “infrastructure” for cross-department collaboration. Brissey, who teaches the class, describes their role as “facilitator.” 

“I don’t choreograph for the show, I don’t tell the students what their collaboration needs to look like,” Brissey said. “I’m just there to teach them a little bit about production.” 

The show is entirely left to the students to run and organize. So how does a group of fourteen students — ranging from ages 19 to 35 with varied experiences in production and their respective fields — create a show from nothing but a title? 

The students at DANCECHAMBERDANCE break the rules a bit and test the limits of their project and each other’s artistry. In an interview with The Daily, students in the class Jacob Taitel and Aislinn Bailie described the process of creating this show as “exploratory” and “wildly improvisational.” They said that the first few rehearsals were mainly used to figure out what everybody could bring to the table. From there, it was clear the line between “dancer” and “musician” was going to become blurred: One dancer professed that they could DJ, another could play the drums, a tuba player was trained in ballet for a year and a bassoon player could beatbox. It is a piece where everyone does everything. It’s less about setting a dance piece to chamber music and more about artists creating a fusion piece with movement and sound as their primary tools. So the class tumbled forward, tossing out concepts, interesting words and scraps of music or choreography, and instead created a space to improvise with other artists and create something risky in a low-stakes environment. 

“It’s so nice to just let out energy and put something out there knowing that someone else will pick it up. Like, everyone’s just trying stuff,” said Taitel, a second year Masters student in Tuba Performance and Chamber Music and student in this class.

In addition to this class being a space for artists to experiment without the pressure of perfectionism, it has also become a space to learn about one’s own craft through a different kind of artist’s eyes. 

“I get some of my most effective criticism from other people within the arts,” Taitel said on the idea of collaborating with dancers, “because they don’t deal with the things that I have to deal with as a musician — they just hear the music.” Musicians who have never played improv before were met with the challenge of thinking and creating beyond the music stand (of which there are none of in this show). Same goes for the dancers; this class has become an opportunity for artists to expand their vocabulary and skill sets across artistic mediums.

And the results seem pretty exciting. And weird. “There are a lot of pockets, some disco, and, I don’t know, we break into a line dance at one point? And that’s pretty cool?” said Bailie, a Masters student in Bassoon. 

Other notable cameos in this piece include a metronomic solo dance piece, a set of pieces on the seven deadly sins and a good many dancers playing music and musicians dancing. “Sometimes we don’t even know what’s going to happen!” Bailie laughingly explained, “Not in a bad way … in an exciting way. You have to be present for it.”

In live performance, there is often a pressure to make capital-A Art, art that is supposed to feel deep and complex and cryptic, but oftentimes just renders the audience confused and feeling a bit left out. This group of artists have relieved themselves of that pressure and seem to just be creating for creation’s sake, reacting honestly from moment to moment, in what will be a unique, strange and genuine experience. 

“I think that what an audience member takes away from a piece is pretty up to them and their experiences and however they feel,” Taitel said, “but I guess if I had to choose something I want them to take away from this, it would be that weird things can create emotion too, and things that you wouldn’t expect can be extremely effective.”