By Caitlin Custer
An orchestra exists to create sound. Beautiful, lavish sounds that embrace you. Fierce, powerful sounds that ready you for battle. Quiet, tender sounds that captivate you.
That sonic experience can be a heady thing, flooding us with happy dopamine, reducing stress, even bringing up long-lost memories. As we focus on listening to the music, it’s easy to lose track of the physical origins of music: the flying fingers, graceful arms, precisely timed breath—even the percussionists moving silently across the stage from one instrument to another.
By turning our attention to the physical, we see glimmers of music’s other half: dance. When it comes into focus, we see that music and dance are inseparable, orbiting each other, sharing human connection and expression between them.
This season, the SLSO features dance and dance music in its performances—a favorite genre of Music Director Stéphane Denève.
In its second classical concert of the season, the SLSO performs composer Anna Clyne’s five-part cello concerto, DANCE, with choreography, a first for the piece. Its title comes from a poem by Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, mystic, theologian, and scholar.
Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.
Clyne turned each line of the poem into a movement of the concerto. Speaking about the piece, she calls the second movement “very physical,” and goes on to describe the cello solo line in physical terms: gliding, soaring.
For her part, Inbal Segev, the cellist who commissioned the piece, notes its expressiveness, especially the first movement, which sounds “as if you were cut open by shards of glass.” The melodies of DANCE are powerful, and Segev notes that they are “not just beautiful…there’s also a lot of pain there. [Clyne] really gets the full human character.”
The SLSO’s performance is choreographed by COCA Co-Artistic Director of Dance Kirven Douthit-Boyd, an exceptional dancer and former member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, among other companies and dance festivals.
Anna Clyne, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, and Inbal Segev
“For me, nine times out of ten, I’m inspired by sound and music first,” said Douthit-Boyd. Anna Clyne’s DANCE “is such a beautiful work of art…deep and poignant—there’s despair, but also a lot of beauty within that.”
Douthit-Boyd spent most of August preparing the work, taking it section by section. The first movement features a solo performance by his husband—the other Co-Artistic Director of Dance at COCA—Antonio Douthit-Boyd. Working with dancers from COCA, The Big Muddy Dance Company, and Saint Louis Ballet is a rare opportunity. Kirven shared his excitement “for the entire collaboration, to get in the space with dancers from different companies around the city. I hope it inspires people to get involved with other artistic practices that are happening in St. Louis.”
Douthit-Boyd looks forward to the moment when “everyone hears the orchestra, sees the bodies in the space, and hearts swell.” His advice for audience members new to dance performances? “Just enjoy. Enjoy the whole experience.”
In addition to the September 25-26 performances of DANCE, there are many pieces this season where the SLSO brings dance music to Powell Hall.
Prim & Proper
If you love dance with lots of propriety—maybe you’re a Jane Austen or Bridgerton fan—then Haydn’s Symphony No. 64, “Tempora mutantur,” (October 15-16) is for you. Its third movement, a minuet, is tailor-made for dancing at a ball.
Early symphonies made a tradition of a danceable third movement. When the genre grew out of the nobleman’s court and into the concert hall, many composers honored the practice, giving the third movement their own spin. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (November 12-14) traded out the traditional minuet and trio for a spirited scherzo and trio.
Franz Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, “The Great,” (November 19-20) straddles the line between feisty scherzo and graceful waltz, and Antonín Dvořák’s Ninth, “From the New World,” (April 8-10) offers a sweet and sparkling dance, flanked by powerful opening and closing statements.
Challenging tradition just a bit more, Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony (May 6-7) delivers a wild waltz in the second movement.
What’s a movement?
A movement is a chapter of a larger work. Often, movements are titled with a tempo, or speed and feeling the composer intends, like Allegro ma non troppo (fast, but not too much) or Scherzo (playful). Other times, movements have titles that help tell a story, like “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” from the larger work Scheherazade.
Usually there is a short pause between movements. Over time, there have been many different conventions about when to clap during an orchestra concert. These days, most people wait until the end of the complete work to clap.
Dancing to folk music connects us to generations and homelands long forgotten. To get your folk tune fix, try Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast (October 29-30), Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy (November 19-20), or Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto (April 22-23). And if you’re dreaming of dancing with someone special, you’ll want the tuneful third movement, “The Young Prince and the Young Princess” from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade (November 27-28).
At the Ballet
The SLSO performs three pieces this season originally created for ballet performance. Paul Dukas’ mystical La Péri and Igor Stravinsky’s rhythm-forward suite from The Firebird share a program (March 11-13). Sergei Prokofiev’s suite from Romeo and Juliet follows the classic story’s tragic plot, complete with a minuet (January 15-16).
If jazz, blues, rags, and funk are what you’re after, one of these concertos will fit the bill. George Gershwin’s Concerto in F (March 18-19) has been choreographed many times in its history, with elements of jazz, blues, and even the Charleston.
William Bolcom’s eclectic Violin Concerto (October 9-10) weaves in and out of rag and jazz tunes. John Adams’ piano concerto, Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? (January 28-29), double dips with funk in the first movement and swing in the third.
Here & Now
Finally, there are a handful of concerts this season that are simply too hard to stay seated for: Music of Motown (September 18), Gospel Christmas (December 9), and many other surprises.
The premiere performance with choreography of Anna Clyne’s DANCE is supported by The Strive Fund.
Caitlin Custer is the SLSO’s Communications Manager.