3rd Law Dance/Theater and Boulder Bach Festival’s “Obstinate Pearl”
A review by Gwen Gray (with photos by Heather Gray)
Boulder contemporary dance and classical music fans converge during Boulder Arts Week.
How do you get from baroque music to a contemporary boxing ring? Follow the path of one restless neuron to another in Katie Elliott or Jim LaVita’s brain. When the co-artistic directors of 3rd Law Dance/Theater embarked on a collaboration with the Boulder Bach Festival’s musical director and gifted violinist Zachary Carretti, the connection between Bach and boxing was just one among several unexpected layers of interpretation that arose.
The result was Obstinate Pearl, which debuted March 28 and 29, 2014, in concert with the kickoff of the inaugural Boulder Arts Week.
Carrettin, who is relatively new to the Boulder Bach Festival but has a long history of collaborating on dance projects, says of the process, “Jim and Katie are such insightful artists, calling on the most interesting and inspired sources, re-contextualizing at will, and wonderfully so.”
The collaboration brought Boulder’s classical music and contemporary dance audiences together inside the Dairy Center for the Arts’ performance space. As the first, somewhat haunting notes of Henrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Passacaglia rang out from Carrettin’s electric violin, you could nearly feel the art-loving audience collectively swoon at the instrument’s clarity and the player’s obvious talent. The chairs lining three sides of the stage (empty for only a moment) seemed to set the scene of a waiting ballroom, charged with mystery and potential. Dancers began to emerge onstage, moving gingerly, as if lifting something fragile and precious while each holding one arm afloat, parallel to the ground.
At the end of the Passacaglia, Carretin, who had been standing off to one side in front of sheet music on a stand, joined the dancers on center stage — and for the rest of the evening, he would move among them.
As Carretin played flawlessly and tirelessly through each of the six major musical pieces — traveling from Biber to Bach to two of his own compositions and back again — he and the dancers visibly worked off of one another, constantly observing, casting smiling or furtive glances, and reacting to one another within the breaths between the notes. Like a quartet of musicians, they followed each other carefully, never losing sight of one another and responding in synchronicity.
Between each of the musical movements, the dancers alternatingly returned to the perimeters of the stage, sitting in the bordering chairs (the female dancers in vaguely baroque-inspired silken or velvet gowns) and never left the stage entirely. During Bach’s Sonata #1 in G Minor, this device was used playfully, with the seated dancers taking turns issuing shoves, urging one another to enter the dance floor. In a scenario of narrative drama, two female dancers, Jamie Melaragno and Michelle Pugh, reluctantly vied for the floor, to join the sole male dancer, Mason Lawrence Taylor. Then, in one of the most beautiful moments of the evening, Pugh, left confined to the margins of the dance floor near her chair, longingly watched and mirrored the movements of the two who had taken to the dance floor without her.
During Bach’s familiar Suite #1 in G Major, the choreography relaxed into itself, with the evening’s most delicious moment taking place during the Allemande, danced by Molly Pearson and Mason Lawrence Taylor. In a Romeo-and-Juliet-like scene of discovery — peering from either side of Carretin and eventually daring to touch, palm-to-palm — the two carried the audience off into a swirl of romance. Sure, it was the most accessible section of the night’s performance, but that wasn’t the only reason it drew thundering applause. Taylor and Pearson’s pas de deux was performed with such awareness to the live music — and its musician — that the synchronicity energized the entire theater.
Another magnetic moment arose when artistic director Katie Elliott joined Carretin alone on stage (much to her loyal fans’ delight — it’s not often Elliott dances in her own pieces). Cautiously entering a small square of light in the center of the stage, she approached Carretin like a bullfighter acquainting herself with the bull — slowly but antagonizingly, yet sometimes tenderly resting a hand or her head against him, all as Carretin continued to play the violin — this time performing his own work, Time Falling Bodies. The improvisational qualities of the pairing were obvious, with the music swelling in response to Elliott’s movements and Elliott expressing graceful jolts of reactive movement in turn.
In the final piece, Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor from Partita #2, the entire 3rd Law company (along with the three guest dancers who appeared throughout the evening: Mimi Ferrie, Nicole Predki and Sarah Weaver) came together in what Elliott describes as a “beautiful challenge,” sometimes sprinting by one another and making adversarial gestures — yet all with a sense of lightness.
Elliott explains, “It’s thought the early Chaconne was a competitive dance where the couples would write their names with their toes in the dirt and whoever did it with the most style won. So that’s incorporated into the choreography. All of the dancers are using their names in phrases that they helped build. I wanted to include that idea of a ‘beautiful challenge,’ so I took petit allegro from ballet, and I was watching boxing videos for footwork, so I incorporated some of that into the choreography.” The spacing, too, often calls for motion moving from the four corners to the center of the “ring” — an embodiment of the tension felt in Bach’s composition.
It was just one way that Elliott, LaVita and Carretin have settled any perceived conflicts between classical music and contemporary dance. Elliott says, “There’s a sensibility that exists in baroque music that exists in a contemporary form also. Just because they are separated by time, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similar things going on.”