Dance to the Music of Time
Full Circle explores the relationship between music and dance
Published: February 19, 2014
Impulse: Responses to Music, Rhythm, and Sound
Baltimore Theatre Project
Through Feb. 23
In the talkbacks after Full Circle dance company’s performances, the first question is often the same: What comes first, the movement or the music? Every year, the company takes on a single big theme, such as body image, religion, race, or water. So when the company, which is the professional ensemble of the Morton Street Dance Center, was searching for a theme for this year’s performance, “I thought that’s always a question in people’s minds: why not explore that?” says Hope Byers, a company member, sweating in the hallway outside the Morton Street studio in the Meadow Mill building. “It felt like this was the time to focus on music and sound and rhythm and how that really just impacts people.”
Byers, who composed one of the nine pieces in Impulse: Responses to Music, Rhythm, and Sound, this year’s Full Circle performance at Theatre Project through Feb. 23, had been thinking about the connection for a while. “Seven years ago I went to this church in downtown Silver Spring,” she says. “It’s a place where a lot of different types of people go, but there are some telepaths there.”—Yes, telepaths as in psychics—“So after the service one of the members came up to me and said ‘Are you a musician?’” Byers told the telepath that she hadn’t played anything since a couple years of piano lessons when she was a small child. The telepath told her that she was filled with music. “I said ‘Well, I’m a dancer.’ But that was so mind boggling to me that he picked up on this type of musical thing that I guess resides in me. I was filled with this awe of someone else being connected to that.”
The multi-ethnic and multi-generational ensemble all jumped on the idea. Theresa DeAngelo created a piece, “Habitude,” where the dancers, moving across the floor, stomping, and clapping, must create the music themselves. “I want the dancers themselves to listen to their inner rhythms,” she says between rehearsals. One dancer takes the lead, setting the rhythm for the dance, allowing it the opportunity to be different every performance. In another piece, titled “Crash,” two women dance around a couple of chairs (they will use a bench in performances) to that most familiar of urban sounds—the automobile. “Basically it’s a very simple concept,” the choreographer Allison Powell says, “of making movement mirror car sounds exactly with your body.”
The company director Donna Jacobs created an elaborate dance called “Ancestors Whisper,” which begins with recorded voices and Carl Allen playing on a drum as the 12 dancers navigate around one another in intricate patterns as they rehearse. Jacobs’ piece takes the notion of rhythm and music and melds it with a long-term life-cycle—the ways we are connected to the voices of those who have come before us.
There are several other dances to rehearse, but it is Byers’ piece, “Lullabies, Love and the Last Dance: Music from and inspired by life,” which gets the most time today, a couple weeks before the premiere, and it is her piece, too, which most intimately captures the ways that music can define our lives.
Initially, she was thinking of the ways that music colored our movements, giving them meaning and shape. “At first I was thinking it would be real cool to show how different types of movements can be conveyed to the same music. Like if you watch something like National Geographic and there’s a lion chasing an antelope and it’s like Oh my God he’s going to eat that antelope but if you use light and playful music it’s like maybe he’s just playing with him.”
But while the idea had intellectual impact, it lacked the emotional punch that interested Byers. “I started to think about this simple notion of how we are really deeply emotionally connected to music. And if you think about it, there are so many things within our lives that are connected to music and rhythm—even before we touch the earth, the first rhythm we experience in life is the mother’s heartbeat.”
So, the first part of the dance begins with the sound of the heartbeat. The movements, Byers says, are “very smooth and it’s really about being connected to that innate rhythm that we all have.”
From there, she and the ensemble move through those defining moments of human life, finding the music in each.
For the second section, Jane Pelton, the 13-year-old daughter of company member Elizabeth Pelton, stands in the center of the floor playing Brahms’ Lullaby on violin as Byers dances, alone, with a long white cloth, alternately wrapping it around her or flinging it through the air as she cuts and spins. (Byers is filling in at rehearsal for Kakuti Lin, who will dance the part).
This part of the dance has particular resonance not only because Pelton’s own daughter is playing the music, but because several members of the company, including Byers, who has an 19-month old, have recently given birth. “You go through all these milestones in our lives and you say ‘I can’t imagine it without sound, like singing my baby to sleep,’ singing a lullaby, and it doesn’t have to be Brahms’ Lullaby, it can be, ‘Go to sleep little baby I am tired.’ But it is that music that’s in us that somehow soothes a baby.”
Going back to the choruses of Aristophanes, writers have realized that weddings are often best played for comedy, and the two dancers in Byers’ marriage scene play it to the hilt. Abby Hammer, who plays the groom, is able to simultaneously act and dance in such a way that her dance moves become part of the acting and her comic facial expressions become part of the dance, as if her face is actually dancing along with the rest of her body. To make it even trickier, at today’s rehearsals, they are trying to work with live musicians for the first time on this production, which, right now, involves dancing around guitarist Chad Rayadurg, who is playing the Wedding March.
“We grow up and we fall in love and we all have different rituals if we get married or have different partnerships,” Byers says. “But many of those are connected to music and to convey the universal nature of that I am using the ‘Bridal March’ for that section of my piece. It brings back those memories of your wedding day and the giddiness that you had and this Oh my God it’s my wedding day and Oh am I ready? I want people in the audience sitting by their mate to say ‘You remember that day? The best day of our lives.’”
The piece closes with that final ritual, the wake and the funeral. “I wanted to explore the whole end of our lives where we mourn our loved ones when they pass away and have those different rituals and many of us utilize music to help us convey our emotions to help us soothe our pain,” says Byers, who grew up in Louisiana, and immediately turned to the New Orleans-style funeral march. “It starts as the mournful part where you are taking your loved on to be buried and kind of gives that air of I’m in pain and hurting but it’s gonna be OK because in a few minutes we’re gonna celebrate. A big part of the funeral is that celebration with that big band, that brass band and the drums.”
For this part, the company has enlisted the Dixieland-flavored Boonetown Stompers for a segment that is both raucous and mournful.
It’s a fitting ending for dance performed by a company called Full Circle, bringing us from the initial heartbeat through the final digging of the shovel, and all the pulsing rhythms that move us in between.
For more information, please visit fullcircledance.webs.com.
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