By Steve Sucato
Award-winning choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning’s Chamber Dance Project celebrates its sixth Washington season with New Works +, June 20-22 at D.C.’s Sidney Harmon Hall.
The summer-only, project-based company whose model is to bring together dancers when they are on layoff and pair them with musicians to create new work was founded in New York in 2000 and has continued its commitment to live music and dance performance in Washington since its 2014 debut season at The Kennedy Center.
An unabashed champion of live music in collaboration with dance, Coburn Bruning says “too often company directors hide behind the excuse that live music is expensive. Chamber music is a pretty versatile option. The history of the art form has been inextricably intertwined with live music. It has only been the last thirty to forty years that it has become expeditious to use recorded music. There is nothing spontaneous about dancing to recorded music you have heard multiple times.”
Needless to say, all of the works on the program, including its two world-premieres, will feature live music of varying style. “We actually have more musicians on stage throughout the evening than dancers,” says Coburn Bruning. Those musicians have performed with the National Gallery Orchestra, the National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and “The President’s Own” United States Marine Chamber Orchestra among others.
As for those dancers, many of the cast of seven from BalletMet, Milwaukee Ballet and Washington Ballet are familiar faces to CDP audiences. New this season will be former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal dancer Julia Erickson.
Says Erickson of her CDP experience thus far: “It is always a valuable experience to get to work with other seasoned dancers from different companies. We have diverse professional backgrounds, so we bring different bodies of experience to the table.”
The first of the premiere works on the program comes from highly sought-after, award-winning Colombian-Belgian choreographer, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. This year’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award-winner, Lopez Ochoa has created over 60 dance works on companies across the globe including New York City Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Finnish National Ballet, English National Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and San Francisco Ballet.
Her 12-minute quartet, “Rondo Ma Non Troppo” to the first movement of Franz Schubert’s “String Quartet No. 14 in D minor” (Death and the Maiden), is titled after a musical form with a recurring leading theme along with a tempo mark directing that a passage is to be played a certain way, but not too much so.
“Normally, I have the idea for a piece then I look for the music. Here I chose the music first,” says Lopez Ochoa.
Lopez Ochoa says she came into the creative process with CDP’s dancers knowing that she wanted to create a quartet and that she wanted it to start with a circle. “As I arrived to the studio, I saw these round tables I thought we could use one to make circular movement around and then get rid of it,” she says. “But I loved the table so much I kept it in the work.”
Ochoa says she then began researching table dances and their symbolism. Coming upon King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table legend and its group equality in decision making, Lopez Ochoa says, “Intuitively, I now wanted to make a very democratic ballet, not about two men and two women, but four people.”
A frequent user of props in her works, Lopez Ochoa says, “In the beginning a prop is very much an enemy. I tell the dancers that the prop is a very bad dancer and that they need to treat it as if it is their partner. You have to guide it and be very precise with it and then it becomes a very good dancer.”
The program will also include reprises of two Coburn Bruning repertory favorites. The heartfelt, 8-minute “Journey” (2003) is a pas de deux to Samuel Barber’s familiar “Adagio for Strings” that was originally created on former New York City Ballet star Peter Boal (now artistic director of Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet) and dancer Lisa Tachick in memory of Coburn Bruning’s father. While 2017’s “Songs by Cole” is a 25-minute crowd-pleaser for all seven dancers to seven songs by Cole Porter including “C’est Magnifique,” “You Got That Thing” and “Night and Day” played live by a jazz trio featuring vocalist Shacara Rogers.
Says Coburn Bruning of the ballet, “the difficulty in using such a famous song as “Night and Day” is how do you contend with such well-known, wonderful music?” Her solution for “Night and Day” was to make to make all about the costuming. “I wanted a dress with a long train and that emphasized the flow and sculpture of it and the woman in it.” In this case BalletMet’s Francesca Dugarte. For her tongue-in-cheek interpretation of “Don’t Fence Me In,” Coburn Bruning created a cowboy dance take on Swan Lake’s “Dance of the Little Swans” complete with cowboy boots, hats and a squirt gun fight.
Opening New Works +’s second half and making its Washington debut, will be the duet from “Extremely Close” (2008), by former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer and resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo. The 7-minute piece danced to music by Philip Glass played live by pianist Sophia Kim Cook, begins in silence with white feathers slowly drifting from the rafters on to the stage floor and collecting like snow as the audience returns from intermission.
Says Coburn Bruning, “It’s the kind of work I look for. Something powerfully evocative that does not tell you how to think or tell you a story, but elicits something from each audience member that is unique to them.”
Also included on the program are two music only selections by CDP’s resident chamber orchestra; “Duo,” to Zoltán Kodály’s “Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7: I. Allegro serioso, non troppo” and “Duel,” to Chris Rogerson’s “String Quartet No. 1: I. Duel”.
Rounding out the 95-minute program will be the premiere of “Prufrock,” co-conceived and directed by Coburn Bruning and theatre director Matt Torney. Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s 1910 poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the 13-minute avant-garde dance work for five dancers to a commissioned score by James Bigbee Garver (performed live on three computers), is a very different work for Coburn Bruning she says. “I wanted to create a piece where the audience had to assimilate it from different fragments presented on different parts of the stage.”
The work’s fifteen non-linear fragments appear as somewhat disjointed images from the poem but do not follow the progression of Eliot’s stream of consciousness composition delivered by narrator Torney. “It will be the most active engagement of the audience on the program,” says Coburn Bruning.
Chamber Dance Project performs New Works +, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 20, 8 p.m., Friday, June 21, and 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., June 22. Sidney Harmon Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. Tickets are $35-52 and $125-175 for June 20’s Opening Night Performance and Summer Solstice Party at the Hotel Monaco. To purchase tickets, call (202) 547-1122 or visit chamberdance.org. In addition, Chamber Dance Project’s Bring a Child for Free program offers a Saturday, June 22 matinee ticket for young people up to age 18 accompanied by a paying adult. An all-ages onstage workshop with company dancers follows the performance. Call (202) 547-1122 for more information and tickets.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.