October 5, 2011

Live jazz accompanies Chamber Dance Companys lively ‘Cantos Gordos — with video

Each year the UW Chamber Dance Company revives classic dances for its concert, but the dancers dont often get to perform them to live music. This year, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, theyll do just that. Cantos Gordos, by Bebe Miller, will have accompaniment from an ensemble of accomplished musicians, playing music by jazz great Don Byron.

Its part of the annual Chamber Dance Company concert, set for Oct. 13-16 in Meany Hall.

The dance was set on the Chamber Dance Company by former Miller dancer Heidi Henderson, and Miller herself came to Seattle in August to put the final touches on the piece. A longtime dancer and choreographer in New York, Miller now teaches at Ohio State University but still has a professional dance company. She said dancing to live music was not typical in her company either, for the same reason — the expense – but Cantos Gordos was an exception.

“I cant remember how I found [Don Byron], but I probably heard something on one of his CDs and I thought, ‘Man, thats a really great sound,” Miller said. “I had never worked with winds or brass before, or with a jazz ensemble. So we talked. He hadnt worked with dance before, so it seemed like a nice pairing that [would be] new for both of us and we went from there.”

Byrons music is titled, simply, Music for Six Musicians, but Miller chose something livelier for her dance. Cantos Gordos means Fat Songs, a name she chose for its juiciness. “After hearing the music for a while, I thought there was something about his heavy, heavy fun sound,” she said. “It seemed full of…full of life seems a little trite, but something blaring and fun and dissonant and emotional.”

Hannah Wiley, director of the Chamber Dance Company, said she was attracted to the dances non-post modernism. “Even though all the nuance can be found in the movement, the movement is not so abstract that you cant tell whats going on,” she said. “Its got things you can grab onto and understand.”

The dance is part of a concert with the theme “Relationships,” and Fat Songs is, in a way, a dance of duets. As one critic put it after a performance in New York, “The duets in Cantos Gordos are the meat of the dance. Ever-changing couples deconstruct tangos, sambas and other popular Latin dances.”

Miller said she hadnt intended to create something with a Latin flavor, and Cantos Gordos is not “regulation” Latin dance. “But Im an old high school Latin dancer — I did salsa —and I think I was just intrigued in remembering that feeling…. Theres an inflection of that kind of sound that I really enjoy.”

Fat Songs was first performed in 1994, and Miller kept it in her companys repertoire for a couple of years thereafter, then retired it.  Wiley discovered it almost a decade later, and the Chamber Dance Company performed it in 2003. Miller said she was surprised when Wiley asked for the dance, since it is not one of her signature works more likely to be requested by others.

But Fat Songs was a hit, and because the Chamber Dance Company is made up of graduate students who move on after a two-year program, Wiley was happy to get a chance to revive the dance with a new group. She calls it “virtuosic in its intellectual complexity.”

Miller said she loved working with the Chamber Dance Company dancers. “The best thing is that theyre so willing,” she said. “Theyre kind of movement computers. Youll give an image or an idea or a correction, and you can just see people go inside their brain and body and theres that really subtle recalculation that is part of the kinetic science of dance. And they come [to my choreography] with their own styles and talents.”

Miller said she is unable to attend the concert because of her teaching schedule, but Wiley will provide her with a DVD of the performance. And shes thinking of bringing the dance to her Ohio State students. Other dances on the program:

  • Embrace, by Seattle choreographer Wade Madsen, (1989) is a suite of four duets: Kiss, Caress, Glance and Embrace. The audience is treated to an inside peek at couples’ trysts — stolen moments during a cocktail party or game of croquet. Set to laughing, whimsical music by Fritz Kreisler, Embrace offers a glimpse into Madsen’s romantic humor and tenderness.
  • To Have and to Hold, (1999) affectionately known as Bench, journeys into the poignant world of human fragility, mortality and loss. Whether inspired by the Holocaust or the tragic deaths of so many artists from AIDS in the 1980s-or both-To Have and To Hold choreographers, the late Daniel Shapiro and Joanie Smith, have created an homage, a prayer, to memory.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $18 for the general public, $16 for faculty, staff and alumni association members and $10 for students. They are available at the Arts Ticket Office, 206-543-4880, or online.