Dancing Above, Singing Below: Ars Nova and Frequent Flyers at the Dairy
A review by Marc Shulgold
In their spoken introduction, Tom Morgan and Nancy Smith welcomed their audience to the Dairy Arts Center by cutely alternating words and phrases in explaining the collaboration of his Ars Nova Singers and her all-women Frequent Flyers aerial dance troupe.
Most of what they actually said became lost in the distracting novelty of how they were saying it. That disconnect can also be applied to parts of the show that followed. As the Ars Nova chamber chorus (expanded to 40 voices) sang at the rear of the Grace Gamm Theatre stage, members of Frequent Flyers moved about the floor or hovered, soared or dangled overhead.
Though there were many times when the music and dance seemed to operate independently, much of the program (seen on Nov. 19) proved a daring and often wondrous combination. Fans of both companies may recall a previous collaboration on Orff’s Carmina Burana at Macky Auditorium a decade ago.
The greatest successes occurred after intermission in five collaborative pieces. Earlier, a lengthy, three-part work that dominated the first half soon outwore its welcome. But let’s get to the good stuff.
Whispers (to music by Steven Stucky) found two dancers wrapped in long lengths of fabric, soon to be joined by two who’d been gliding around on the floor. In its understated simplicity and easy flow, Smith’s choreography blended elegantly with Stucky’s setting of Latin and Walt Whitman poetry.
Perhaps the most effective of the shorter pieces was Calling (by Boulder composer Paul Fowler), which combined the score’s engrossing sound-scape, calling for nose-singing among other exotic effects, with an impeccably crafted series of movements by dancers suspended on three long ropes. The result was a work of organic unity.
More fabric-dancing combined with Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach, a mysterious, extended re-arrangement of a Bach chorale. The music, as with the other works sung so expertly by Ars Nova, was slow and dreamy – ideal qualities to accompany Smith’s slow, dreamy choreography.
A much-needed element of color and fun came in Bruce Stark’s joyful Rain Song (“Celebrate the rain,” the chorus sang), performed by two floor-bound dancers with umbrellas, interweaving with three others on glittery stilts. To complete the Bruce Stark mini-medley, the program ended with his Wind Song, an achingly lovely piece that served as an ideal soundtrack to a final bit of fabric-dancing.
Opening the performance wan an ambitious suite, Villarosa Sequences (music by Thomas Jennefelt), which found Smith’s dancers striking poses on a suspended platform of metal pipes, while others posed and slithered on the stage floor, or dangled and posed on hanging fabric. Yes, there was a lot of posing – and not enough continual movement. Only in the final segment did the dancers respond directly to Jennefelt’s ethereal score. Otherwise, there was little cohesion between music and choreography. And it went on too long, as aural and visual repetition turned wearying.
In two solo selections (by Mahler and John Boggs), Morgan’s singers moved down to fill the stage, reminding their listeners of Ars Nova’s consistent vocal brilliance.