Having separately followed two of the DC area’s delightful performing arts groups, one a jazz ensemble and the other a dance troupe, I was intrigued to learn they would be performing together at this year’s Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival.
Learning that the two groups were developing a joint performance of dance and live music centered on exploring life’s transformative moments and the common ties that bind us to one another led to this column about the DC-based Veronneau (music) and the Northern Virginia-based Company Danzante (dance).
The collaboration and heightened senses of live music from the jazz ensemble, Véronneau and the choreography of contemporary dance group Company Danzante, promises to blend and harmonize into an absorbing performance.
David Siegel: Why did you want to have a partnership?
Véronneau: We’ve had the opportunity as a band to collaborate with many other and always found the experience inspiring and challenging. Last year we wrote and performed in a play at the INTERSECTIONS Festival, Bossa Fever, which examined the emergence of Brazilian music in the early 60’s from the perspective of a Brazilian female vocalist and a member of DC’s Charlie Byrd Trio, the band which brought bossa into the global musical mainstream. The experience of moving into theater, with a great director Mary Hall Surface, was like putting your fingers into the electricity supply…in a good way. It was at the festival that we met Company Danzante, who were amazing and lovely. We were hungry for more cross-artistic collaborations and eager to work with them.
Danzante: We had the pleasure of meeting the Veronneau Band at Atlas Intersections last year, where both companies presented work. We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other artists to challenge our artistry and inspire new creations, and Veronneau has done just that, bringing such experience and talent to the collaboration. It has been a joy to work with them. It is important for us to regularly make new work and to share with our audience a live music and dance production is particularly special.
What can audiences expect at the Atlas Intersections Festival when watching your joint performance called Rhythms of the Heart?
Véronneau: The show reflects the transitions and emotions which are common to all of us throughout life. We wanted to present vignettes of those moments which delight or pain the heart. The pieces reflect love, childhood, yearning, war, fragility…it’s an emotional roller coaster. From the perspective of those people who know Veronneau’s music, there will be some familiar sounds but expanded by the dramatic visual aspect of the dancers. We’ve also composed and adapted pieces specifically with the dancers. Our long time collaborators Dave Kline (violin) and Brazilian percussionist Bruno Lucini will join the acoustic guitars and vocals to expand the soundscape and drive the music which frames and propels the choreography.
Danzante: To add to the above, Company Danzante will be performing all new pieces, choreographed by Arturo Garcia and Katherine Horrigan. The audience will see all performers express the emotions of life’s special journey through the harmonious interpretations of the dancers and musicians seamlessly intertwined in the space. There will be high impact energetic expressions of joy to more reflective and tender moments.
What was the inspiration for this work? Which came first; choreography or the music?
Véronneau & Danzante: It’s been a mixture. In some cases the choreography has been an interpretation of the music. In other cases, it’s been composing the music around the dance. There are even pieces where the music is improvised, responding musically to what the dancers are doing.
Is there a difference in dancing with live musical accompaniment vs recorded music?
Danzante: Absolutely! Dancing to live music brings such a wonderful energy to the stage where the dancers and musicians are really able to respond to each other making the live performance even more vibrant and unique. What is so special about live performance is that the audience is witnessing an artistic experience that can never be replicated exactly the same. When the collaborating artists feed off of each other, something beautiful is created in that moment and the audience is drawn into that experience. We saw an example of this when we held an open-rehearsal preview of the production and the audience experienced the rhythm and movement evolve before their eyes. It is a rare and special opportunity for the dancers to work with musicians.
Working with musicians adds excitement and is less predictable than using a recorded soundtrack so it requires the dancers to tune into the music to follow the tempo. The great thing is the musicians are doing the same thing and carefully “tuning in” to what the dancers are doing so that the result is a communication between dancers and musicians during the live performance.
What do you want audiences to take away after the Intersections performance of “Rhythms of the Heart”?
Véronneau: We presented an open-rehearsal of the commissioned work recently. Despite an icy cold February night the room was packed and the response was fantastic. People, of all ages, really ‘got it’ big time, and just delighted in the whole event. The fact is, some people go to see live music, some people go to see live dance. The impact of taking people into an event where they get both is a unique and powerful sensory experience. I would love to think that we will open the eyes and ears of both the music and dance loving audiences! Even when live music and dance are combined it isn’t typically in the style of acoustic world-jazz, song based music. The song based format provides another avenue for audiences to connect with the story. I think people are in for a great evening!
We’re keen to take the show to more audiences. We’ll be performing it on May 28 at the Petworth Jazz Project in DC, a series which is held outdoors in an urban park. The series has been typically music only, so we’re excited to be breaking boundaries by putting our combination of live jazz and dance into unexpected spaces. We would love to do similar events…imagine doing this in the hallowed atrium’s of corporate headquarters, museums, airports, train stations… We’d like to take this show to “where people are” and really knock people out with the unexpected experience!
Danzante: We hope our audience feels uplifted by the music and dance production as we carry them on an emotional and sensorial experience! We hope to expose our dance audience to the wonderful music of the Veronneau Band, while sharing a new large ensemble production by Company Danzante.
We had the pleasure of performing last summer for the Petworth Dance Project and this year both jazz and dance will be combined for a great summer series of performances. We look forward to presenting this new production at Petworth on Memorial Day weekend to inaugurate the summer series and picnic season! We also plan to elaborate upon this production after it premieres for Atlas Intersections, so that in future performances new songs and choreographies will be added.
Company Danzante and Veronneau Band perform Rhythms of the Heart at the INTERSECTIONS Festival at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s The Theresa and Jane Lang Theatre – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. on Sunday, March 6, 2016 at 5 p.m. For tickets, purchase them online.