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FWDC’s Homegrown Rhythms spotlights unique collaborations between local dancers and musicians
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
One weekend afternoon in early February, while a group of dancers and musicians was rehearsing a piece for the Fort Wayne Dance Collective’s 2006 edition of the Homegrown Rhythms show, the lights abruptly went out and plunged the rehearsal space into near darkness.
Fortunately, the 2006 Homegrown Rhythms performance is, for the most part, electricity proof, and the power outage didn’t hold up rehearsals. “We didn’t need any electricity,” says Liz Monnier, artistic director of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective (www.fwdc.org). “It was a little dark, but it worked.”
Fort Wayne Dance Collective’s Homegrown Rhythms is a fusion of local musicians with local dancers and choreographers to create an original piece of work. Last year, a power outage may have held up rehearsals. “Last year, we said we wanted original music,” Monnier says. “What we got was a lot of synthesized stuff, and not a lot of ‘live’ music.”
For 2006, Monnier ditched the ‘original music’ requirement. “Our challenge and our goal with this performance was to have no recorded music. We wanted whatever sound that was going to happen to be live. You can come in and play Bach if you want to, but it has to be live.”
There’s no Bach in Homegrown Rhythms, though there is a little Randy Newman — Mike Patterson on bass and John Tankel on guitar accompany six dancers in a tribute to New Orleans. Most importantly, the show is all “live,” with musicians backing up the dancers on a wide range of instruments and styles. Percussion drives many of the pieces, like “Blue,” which uses Taiko drumming to explore a variety of rhythms with movement. “If you’re familiar with Taiko drumming, it’s kind of showy,” Monnier says. “It’s not just about drumming, but also moving along with it.”
A couple of younger percussionists and dancers from the 3 Rivers Jenbe ensemble collaborate with some young people from the Boys & Girls Club for a piece called “Step Into an Ancient Groove.”
Tsetse and Monnier collaborated with Ketu Oladuwa, Akinlana DaDo, Mike Patterson, and Fey Fey Moussou from JATA on an ambitious piece called “In and Out of My Head,” a layered work that addresses current events, relationships and the “warrior archetype.” Monnier says the group wanted to try to develop something together, from the ground up. “We sat down and just kind of talked about our issues — ‘what are you thinking about these days?’ and we just made a list of thoughts and feelings about the world.” The grouped picked words representative of these thoughts and feelings, and gave each other assignments — a dancer would be asked to come in with two minutes of movement based around the word “Warrior,” for example, or a musician would be asked to create a six-count beat that would include certain instruments. “We did our own individual writings about all those words, and that language became the thread that pulled them all together.”
The instrumentalists get a break on “Pulse,” an all vocal piece featuring tales of near death experiences with the dancers supplying the voices. Monnier says “Pulse” uses the gesture of taking your pulse and layers it with a variety of dance and language, addressing the question of “how do I know I’m alive?”
Another piece that uses a mixture of dance and spoken word is “Braids.” Fort Wayne Dance Collective co-founder Lisa Tsetse was inspired by six pieces from local writer Helen Frost’s forthcoming collection The Braid (to be published by Farrar & Strauss in 2006). “The poems are about the natural world, nature and imagination,” says Tsetse, who performs with dancers Leslie Pulver, Daisy Paroczy, and Abi Mustapha. “The poems are quite beautiful in their simplicity, and they are woven together. In other words, the last line of one poem, is the beginning line of the next poem, and the dancers will be used similarly. A soloist begins, then it goes into a duet and a trio, then it changes from a trio back to a duet back to a soloist.” Anne Hall composed the music for the piece, and accompanies the dancers on balaphone (a xylophone-like instrument made of wood).
For the dancers, choreographing a piece without music proved its own challenge. “When you choreograph dance, you have a piece of music and that kind of frames a boundary from which you create something,” Monnier explains. “It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has peaks and valleys which dancers can hang their hat on. ‘Pulse,’ for example, kept getting bigger and bigger, and then I put something on at the beginning, and the beginning kept getting longer and longer. I had these sections and trying to create these transitions between them was very challenging.”