On Saturday, Sept. 22, Rochester experienced a thrilling fusion of motion and music at part of the Rochester Fringe Festival’s “Breakdown: Dance/Sound.” The event showcased classical music and modern dance in a collaborative performance by Rochester’s own BIODANCE and Sound ExChange Orchestra.
Performed in the spacious Christ Church cathedral, this concert opened with a fascinating interplay between the dancers and a hidden brass chorale. As the piece began, audience members tried to locate the source of the sound, which seemed to be located at the back of the church. However, all that could be seen was a group of dancers in orchid-colored silk robes; the musicians were ensconced above in the organ loft and not revealed until the piece’s close. Complex, sinuous choreography complemented the elaborate polyphony of Johannes Brahms’ “Chorale Prelude No. 10,” as dancers separated and recombined to showcase individual and collective talent.
After the first piece, Artistic Director Emily Wozniak said a few words about the mission of Sound ExChange and the meaning of this collaborative event. She explained that Sound ExChange is an orchestra dedicated to innovation in music, and collaborative events like these aim both to expand audiences and to re-engage even the most seasoned concertgoers. BIODANCE Director and Choreographer Missy Pfohl Smith spoke as well, explaining how dance and music can be mutually illuminating: As the musicians unfold their melodies, dancers meld shape and space into a visual picture of the music.
The next item on the program was Bach’s “Suite for Solo Violoncello No. 4,” performed by cellist and Eastman School of Music senior Audrey Snyder. A two-person dance was performed alongside the cellist in which the dancers used gentle hand motions and ballet-like leaps to underscore the piece’s grace and elegance.
Next, Eastman student composer and junior Daniel Brottman conducted a performance of his own string quartet, “ex abrupto.” The phrase “ex abrupto,” as Brottman explained, means “without preparation” — and this is certainly how the piece opens. To use another Latin phrase, the quartet starts “in medias res” — in the middle of the music with anxious tremolo lines that dive and resurface within the piece’s mosaic texture. A trio performed a dark, intense dance alongside this number though, featuring precarious lifts that clarified the tension and resolution in the quartet.
Perhaps the most adventurous item on the program was a performance featuring audience participation. Sound ExChange performed Brottman’s “Sounding, Dancing,” a piece that opens and closes with a haunting single-tone marimba solo. Brottman’s piece created moments of pure magic and wonder, as the audience’s clapping caused clarinet and flute lines to blossom forth over the chiming marimba. Conductor Marc Powell handled the situation expertly, calmly explaining to the audience beforehand how to place their claps, and gently signaling to the orchestra when to begin the next section. Meanwhile, members of BIODANCE appeared in the aisles, even pausing to seat themselves momentarily next to audience members.
The orchestra then performed Samuel Barber’s elegiac “Adagio for Strings.” The Adagio was accompanied by a quartet of dancers, who showcased a piece called “I.T.” Smith explained that the piece is designed to show how technology can breach long distances between people, but ironically can also create even more space between us.
The eclectic program concluded with a warm, thoughtful performance of the first movement of Jean Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 2 in D.” BIODANCE’s flowing dance combinations blended seamlessly with the symphony’s Romantic character: fluttering hand movements matched with playful woodwind figures, string pizzicatos mimicked with tiptoeing dance-marches and the movement’s extravagant climax was underscored beautifully by BIODANCE’s impetuous, expansive leaps. The return of the nostalgic opening theme signaled the end of the piece, followed by a standing ovation to celebrate this meaningful, inspiring event.
Winstein-Hibbs is a member of the class of 2014.