CREO Presents Music by Kasparov and Reich

In a program titled "The Synergy of Dance, Visual Arts and Music" the audience was treated to a multi-sensory feast. CREO's director Andrey Kasparov led a performance of Steve Reich's Sextet (1984) followed by the premiere performance of his work Tsitsernakabert (2007-2008) for musicians, dancers and videographer.

A memorial stands in the city of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Twelve marble slabs lean inward to form a circle. A spire on the right of the circle reaches to the sky, symbolizing the rebirth of the country of Armenia after the holocaust of 1915. A crumbling Ottoman Empire, which became the modern state of Turkey, waged a war of extermination on the people of Armenia. The twelve marble slabs that enclose the eternal flame that burns five feet below the surface of the monument represent the twelve lost provinces, now part of Turkey. As the lights come up the dancers lean into each other, creating the circle. The heart of their energy indicates the eternal flame.

A video projection of earth and stone outcropping reflected in water illuminates the back of the stage. Sculptor and ODU faculty member Peter Eudenbach's gently undulating black-on-blue natural images remind us of the earth's longevity and stability. They ground us in reality allowing us symbolically to venture into the darkness of the human heart.

In silence the dancers cling together for two long minutes. Dancers moving into a large, open circle is the first sound. A distant, faint rumble seems to come from the silence of so many dead. The sharp sound of a bowed music stand startles and a dancer falls down. The slaughter has begun. The flutes and percussion created an edgy soundscape like a foghorn at night warning of hidden dangers. Frantic strikes of bow on violin send the dancers trying to escape like rats from a cage. A vocal chant begins, other worldly, almost soothing. The only male dancer tries to comfort and console a female. They writhe together on the floor. A solo dancer moves. Her contorted body struggles as others watchfully wait. Suddenly the drum strikes and they all fall down. A huge vocal "whoop", a cry of pain, follows. The backdrop has the look of a blue sail floating over water while the music increases in intensity and the voice is a requiem for unrelenting pain beyond bearing. The drum sequence of many sharp strikes is the gunfire that ends all sound except those of birds in the swamp. The dancers arise to struggle once again; a circle of blue on the water scintillates as the drums speak of the struggle. The lullaby chant comes again, the drum accompanies, creating a heartbeat rhythm. The dancers, all but one, coalesce, only to sunder, blotting out the music with the sound of their movement.

The dancers rise up, one then another, in a pyramidal body pile. A woman rises up. It is a triumphant moment. We focus on her face, mostly covered by red hair. The sound dies away. Like the monument's stele, she represents the rebirth of the nation while the sun is reflected as a scintillating, gold orb as if a star has gone supernova. As the stage goes dark a pervasive feeling of sadness overcomes me. The silence suggests that, as far as nature is concerned, we humans are dispensable. The earth will go on without us.

Choreographer Beverly Cordova, founder and director of Second Wind Dance Company which performed Tsitsernakabert, joined with Christina Yoshida in creating the dances. Based on a scenario outlined by Andrey Kasparov, the dances, once created, were set to music by him. For many years Kasparov's goal had been to create a piece that imparted the horror of genocide and the endurance of the Armenian people. "It has been a long and arduous process," he said "but Beverly literally read my mind and realized in dance what I had in my subconscious."

The text chanted by mezzo-soprano Lisa Relaford Coston was the 38 characters of the Armenian alphabet. The instrumentalists were Shanon Allen and Dale Paul Lazar, percussion; Johanna Bluemink, violin; Robert Hughes, bass/contrabass flute; Joshua Stone, alto flute. Andrey Kasparov conducted.

We asked our Armenian-American friend, Lisa Besharian Walker, who had missed the live performance, to view the DVD. She shared her reaction. "What struck me the most was the sense of chaos throughout the whole piece. The falling of the bodies and the beating of the drums gave such a tangible feeling of despair and violence... the brutality of the Turks towards the Armenians was so huge, it became almost impossible for the Christian Armenians to wrap their minds around the reality of such violence. Like the Jews, who later were victims of genocide, the Armenians' very breath was knocked out of them. The basic fabric of everyday life was shattered, never to be restored. The piece shows that beautifully." Ms. Besharian Walker goes to the heart of why Dr. Kasparov's Tsitsernakabert was such a great success. The commitment and skill of all the participants created a powerful experience for me. In future performances some long pauses by dancers during the flow of the music could be very effective in overcoming the redundancy of falling bodies.

Steve Reich (b. 1936) Sextet opened the evening and was conducted by Lucy Manning and danced by Buffalo Contemporary Dance and choreographed by Leslie Wexler, co-director of the Buffalo, New York group. Sextet was commissioned by Laura Dean Dance and premiered in 1984. About the instrumentation, Reich has said "Percussion [instruments] primarily produce sounds of relatively short duration. In Sextet I was interested in overcoming that limitation. In the second movement, the use of the bowed vibraphone, not merely as a passing effect but as a basic instrumental voice, was one means of getting long tones. The use of the synthesizer as electric organ supplied long continuous sounds not possible with piano. The mallet instruments (marimba, vibraphone, etc.) are basically instruments of high and middle register without a low range. To overcome this limit the bass drum was used, doubling piano or synthesizer played in their lower registers, particularly in the second, third and fourth movements."

Sextet begins with two or three players on identical instruments substituting beats for rests building up repeating patterns in canon. Projected star points of light are the backdrop as a solo dancer elegantly moves around the stage - Mercury in the black, gossamer rectangle of fabric in the night sky. As stage left is illuminated we see a cluster of dancers in rust colors appear and the soloist dances around them. A duet develops and becomes a trio. In unison the dancers move as if they are building the sound bit by bit.

The change from one movement to the next in this five-movement piece is very abrupt with brief musical bridges between each section. In the second movement the lyrical music is produced by the bowed vibraphone as a semi-drone. The solo dancer's movements were rounded and smooth in response. In the third movement there is a quasi-Latin syncopation. The dancing is playful - reminds one of children on a summer beach and the blue-green wash of color strengthens the feeling.

There is a sense of mystery in the fourth movement and the solo dancing is fleet and stylized. The dancer seems self-absorbed. The starry sky is black. In the fifth movement the whole company dressed in earth tones dances in unison. With a wash of red color a duet flows into an exuberant trio to the repetitive music which gives way to a riot of movement by all. The end is abrupt. They return for a bow and are joined by the musicians.

Some audience members were surprised when live musicians came out for a bow. To make it all work in the space available at ODU University Theatre the musicians performed in the loading dock with the dancers on stage. There was an amazing array of instruments with sound put into the hall on speakers.

The performers on March 17 and 18, 2008 were Shanon Allen and David Walker, percussion; Alan James Senson and Dale Lazar, percussion and keyboards; Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn, keyboards. Lucy Manning conducted.

We saw Sextet at the Harrison Opera House as a concert piece performed by Steve Reich and musicians in 1997 as part of that year's Virginia Arts Festival and found that watching the musicians perform Reich's work has an exciting choreography of its own. Here I have mixed feelings about the choreography. The dancers were excellent performers but the dance in the first movement, after a strong, clear opening, lost me. Closing my eyes and listening helped me stay in the music. Somehow matching every musical phrase with a movement becomes wearying. I would have preferred slower, more elegant movement stretched over several repetitions which would have provided more visual interest. The lighter-than-air gossamer fabric looked elegant and would lend itself to this suggested change.

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