Local music group Bach Collegium San Diego is known for presenting “historically informed” performances of centuries-old music. A violinist might play without much vibrato, for example, hewing closely to a straight tone that was favored at the time a composer like Johann Sebastian Bach was alive. Even the notes the musicians tune to are slightly different than modern instruments.
So when I heard the Bach Collegium was teaming up with a contemporary dance troupe for its upcoming concert, I was intrigued. I visited the Wagner Dance Theatre on Tuesday night as the musicians and dancers came together to see their juxtaposition live in rehearsal for the first time. Watch our video piece for this week’s Behind the Scene TV with our friends from NBC7 San Diego:
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Choreographer Yolande Snaith, interviewed above, has been teaching at UC San Diego’s Graduate Dance Theatre school since 2002. She said the music for this performance, Bach’s “The Art of Fugue,” has characteristics that seemed spatial and mathematical as she listened — elements she used to assign movements to pieces of music.
This is actually very new. Normally I don’t use classical music. I have done pieces with elements of classical music but not quite as intensely as this. I mean, this music is very complex. And for to me it was a real challenge; I was very interested in that challenge. But I think for me I was really interested in taking the challenge on because I had an instinct that the music was going to allow for a much more contemporary relationship between dance and music.
Snaith used an interesting image to describe what it was like for her to listen to the music. Listening to each instrument’s voice enter the piece of music is like following a kite string, she said. Once the kites get flying in the wind, it’s easy to lose track of the individual strings as the colorful kites dance.
There’s not as wide a gulf as it might seem between music from the 1700s and dance, said Bach Collegium director Ruben Valenzuela. A lot of the music of the time was written specifically for types of courtly dances. And the “Art of Fugue” is a work that the composer wrote in a very experimental way at the end of his life — in fact, Bach didn’t finish it before he died.
“That idea of a creative person just trying to manipulate something his or her craft as far as it can go I think is something we can all relate to, whether it be an artist, a dancer, a musician,” Valenzuela said.
The performances are Friday and Saturday nights at Wagner Dance Theatre at UCSD.
I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0531.
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