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Local musicians and choreographers create Homegrown Rhythms

Fort Wayne Dance Collective offers a unique showcase

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


The basic idea behind the Fort Wayne Dance Collective’s Homegrown Rhythms production is simple: match local musicians and composers with local dancers and choreographers, and let them create an original piece of work. “We haven’t done anything like this before,” says Liz Monnier, artistic director of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective (www.fwdc.org). “This is the first time we’ve tried to collaborate with musicians.”

“Ideally, it was for them to submit a proposal together for an original piece and original choreography,” Monnier says, adding that they heard from several choreographers who were interested, but didn’t know any musicians, and vice-versa. “We mixed and matched people, and they got together to create works.”

The result is Homegrown Rhythms, a diverse showcase of eight original collaborations between local musicians and dancers. There’s no unifying theme to Homegrown Rhythms besides the collaboration itself. An improvisational piece can follow a more tightly choreographed work, while the music ranges from live African drums to recorded electronic soundscapes.

Some of the performers took advantage of the program’s experimental aspects to expand on their usual repertoire. The nine-member belly dance troupe Taleeba (www.zweena.com) will perform a piece called “Wahed” — Hebrew for “one” — which breaks with a few of the traditions of Middle Eastern dance. “The context is that Middle Eastern dance is usually done solo, so we’re trying to create a piece where we’re dancing as one body,” says Sara Jo Slate, director of Taleeba. “We’re using a lot of elements you don’t usually see in Middle Eastern dance, like lifts and contact with each other, which are usually in more modern dance.”

“This fits really well with where we’re going as a group,” she adds. “All of the dancers I have right now are physically very strong and flexible, so it’s the first time that I’ve ever really been able to do something that pushes the dancers this hard.”

The music also breaks with tradition. Slate says that usually, Middle Eastern dance is done with live, improvised music. For “Wahed,” they’ll be dancing to recorded original music composed by Slate’s husband Brad, a composer and Sales Engineer at Sweetwater, who describes it as tribal electronica — sort of ambient, crossed with Middle Eastern style percussion. “This music is made of lots of samples,” Sara Jo Slate explains. “It’s not the kind of music you can play live. Well, not unless you’re Moby.”

Another piece featuring recorded music is called “Flight of the Deltoid,” which also serves as the premier of performers from the Fort Wayne Dance Collective’s recently launched dance program at Ivy Tech. “It’s a dance about the deltoid muscle, which is the big muscle over the shoulder,” says Liz Monnier. “If human beings could fly, the deltoid muscle would be the major muscle group in that, so it’s a funny dance about trying to fly.”

The music was composed by Tom Tempel of Tempel Recording Studio. “Tom’s traditionally not a musician, he’s a sound engineer,” Monnier says. “He’s really good with sound effects, and when we started working on this piece, I thought it was going to be sound effects, but he found the musician within.”

For this piece, Monnier sent Temple a videotape of the dancers and the movements she had choreographed. “She told me it was called ‘Flight of the Deltoid’, so of course, I took that strictly as a Star Trek kind of thing,” Tempel laughs. He says that the collaboration has been pretty casual; there hasn’t been a lot of back-and-forth between him and Monnier. “Usually, dance is set to music,” he says. “This time, I’m taking the other way and setting the music to their dance. It’s really enjoyable to sit there and watch, and think ‘what do I hear,’ and start moving my mouse around to find some good music.”

Kenny Bergle composed music for two pieces in Homegrown Rhythms — a solo belly dance by Jessica Muzzy and a piece called “Creatures Under Pressure” about undersea life with Leslie Pulver. For the latter piece, Bergle says that Pulver had already heard the music, and wanted to adapt it to an idea she had. The collaboration involved a lot of back-and-forth, which Bergle, who has written music for modern dance before, says is typical. “The challenge is that you’re collaborating with another medium,” says Bergle, a local composer and long time Sales Engineer at Sweetwater. “The music is integral, but the dance has to be the main focus. The music has to support it. So we go back and forth. Typically, the choreographer will say ‘can we do this and this for these bars, because this is too long or this is too short.’”

For Muzzy’s solo, the experience was almost the exact opposite. Muzzy asked Bergle to write a piece in a certain style and with a certain structure, and let him go from there. “Jessica gave me the musical freedom, and she just wanted a specific kind of form. She really wanted me to create.”

Live African drumming from Jatta (whose four members are also involved with the Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble) provides the soundtrack for “Still Waters Running,” a piece choreographed by Lisa Tsetse celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. There’s also another live percussion-driven piece featuring members of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective touring company and Alison Ballard on the Taiko drums. “(Taiko drums are) the big Japanese drums. They were made out of whiskey barrels, to give you an idea of their size,” explains Monnier.

Lynda High will perform a piece about the challenges of the aging dancer, with music by Michael Patterson, who as a member of Jatta is doing double-duty for Homegrown Rhythms.

Finally, for “Walks of Life” with music by Horace Webster and the Fabulous Mood Swings, the thing Monnier knows about the piece for sure is the title. The music will be improvised, and so will the movement. The basic title could be interpreted literally or figuratively. “I was thinking about jobs and careers, different ways people end up moving in life,” Monnier says. “But it also might be about the way people walk, or maybe playing around with different walks of life of animals.” She adds that she hasn’t ruled out raiding the FWDC’s collection of unusual costumes in the basement.

Homegrown Rhythms
March 4 and 5 at 7 pm
Fort Wayne Dance Collective
437 E. Berry Street
Tickets: $8.00 in advance; $10.00 at the door
(260) 424-6574
For more on the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, visit www.fwdc.org

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