POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2012:
Guthrie Green Getting Good
A dance troupe and some chamber musicians bring modernity to the Brady district
So if you haven't been down to enjoy downtown's newest cool spot, the Guthrie Green, now is the time, friends. First of all, it's a fantastic little piece of green in the middle of downtown. Second, this weekend will find a fascinating collaboration taking place onstage there.
Contemplations, a work of music and dance jointly presented by Portico Dans Theatre (PDT) and Tulsa Camerata (TC), runs this Friday and Saturday at the new and alliterative space.
Jesus Villareal is Tulsa Camerata's double-bass player and executive director, and in his opinion, the Guthrie Green is here to stay.
How TC and Portico came together to mount this joint effort at the Green is actually the result of both companies participating in SummerStage.
"Doing SummerStage this year, we kept being told about this new, quirky outdoor stage, and they wanted proposals for things to be presented there," Villareal said. "When it started to take shape, and we could see this was a great performance space, we wanted to do something with it."
PDT's co-artistic director Jennifer Alden (she shares the position with Michael J. Lopez) said that an undertaking with Tulsa Camerata was kind of a no-brainer.
"We did work with Camerata before," she said. "About a year ago, we did a piece called A Soldier's Tale with them, and it was perfect, and so fun."
The fun led the two groups to talk about working together again, but the concept apparently needed an outside push to make it actually happen.
"Since then, we've been talking about working together again, but it's like we never could put it together," Alden said. "And when the Green opened, we thought, 'This is what we have to do,' so we picked a date when we were both free, so that's what we did."
Villareal echoed PDT's enthusiasm for the pairing, adding that the sort of cross-curricular exposure of one group's fans to the work of the other is a nice side benefit.
"This is a fun way to work together," he said. "And it will be fun for the audience to hear some of our more modern repertoire, and Portico has expanded into a little more aerial stuff, a little more avant-garde. I think there's a wide appeal to the audience. And it's free, so people should come out and see."
As for the Contemplations show itself, it stands to be an emotionally eclectic evening, as press materials suggest themes of loss and search for identity, but at the same time, the two troupes are pairing together on a piece called Different Trains and another called Jesus is Coming -- the latter being a piece that's almost funny -- and both are entertaining works.
After having a conversation about the orphan trains that ran throughout the country from the mid-19th to early-20th centuries, Alden was interested in utilizing a train-based theme for the work that would become Contemplations.
"Jennifer wanted to have this train theme for Contemplations, and I immediately thought of Different Trains, because it's, you know, trains, but it's also one of my favorite string quartets," Villareal said. "Everything sort of grew out of that idea of having a train element."
Different Trains, by American composer Steve Reich, features Reich's signature minimalist sensibilities, along with a pre-recorded soundtrack, and is a pretty interesting piece of music. Adding a modern dance troupe to it should prove to be fascinating, although Villareal does have a small bone to pick with the work.
"I've been in love with Different Trains for years," he said. "Unfortunately, I'm a double-bass player, so I don't get to play this piece."
He went on, though, to say that while Reich may have screwed Villareal out of the opportunity to play on one of the bassist's favorite pieces of music, he still feels the composer is a heavy-hitter.
"I think Reich is one of the great American composers -- up there with Aaron Copland and Philip Glass," he said. That's some heady company, by the way.
The rest of the program includes standalone performances by both TC and PDT and the aforementioned second collaboration on Jesus Is Coming by Dutch composer JacobTV. Portico's solo pieces will shoulder the burden of themes of loss and sense of identity.
"I think more than focusing on the loss aspect of things, we wanted to do something that was more contemporary," Alden said of choosing repertoire for Contemplations. "So the pieces we decided on were not as happy as what we usually do, although still in the vein of what portico does."
As for TC's solo side of things, Villareal reveals another piece of music that's not what we've come to expect from what most of us think of as classical music.
"Our solo clarinetist is doing piece called Garden of Love, and it's got a videography to it, and some pre-recorded music, with poetry by William Blake," he said.
So let's review: Clarinet. Video. Recorded music. William Blake. Cool.
Alden spoke briefly about the process of creating a dance to be performed with another organization, citing with some sense of relief an advantage of working with compositions that utilize prerecorded music as a part of their structures. There's also the fact that Alden and Lopez went into the process of creating the dances for these pieces without having what one might consider encyclopedic knowledge of the music involved.
"We didn't know this music before," she said. "The Steve Reich piece is very contemporary, and the other, Jesus is Coming, is just very out-of-the-box. Both of them come with pre-recorded music that they will play with. So we took that music and choreographed to it. But I hadn't heard them before, so it's very new."
"It's really, really out-of-the-box, new stuff. It's just different-sounding," she said. "It's not your normal Tchaikovsky or Handel or Debussy."
It sounds different than the norm, I guess.
However, this isn't an evening with screeching, atonal abuse of musical instruments, as is so often what people imagine when they think about modern "classical" music.
"This music is very listenable," Villareal said. "I think it will be a crowd-pleaser. It's got some funny things in it, but it's very tonal, so it's not like you're listening to a Schoenberg piece."
Thankfully, neither Reich's nor JacobTV's works for this evening approach those sensibilities, and this is largely due to one word Villareal used to describe the music: "tonal." That's something for which the Western ear yearns.
"JacobTV studied in America, so his music has American elements to it," Villareal said. Thank goodness, am I right?
Tulsa Camerata combines with Portico Dans Theatre to present Contemplations Friday and Saturday nights at the Guthrie Green. The show starts at 7pm each evening, and admission, as Villareal mentioned, is free.
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