I had an interesting composing opportunity and experience with Urbanity Dance last week after being invited to work with them in one of their contemporary dance “test kitchens.” Just a couple of weeks prior Urbanity was named Best of Boston’s “2015 Best Dance Troupe,” so I felt a little extra pressure to come up with some good things with which to work!
I’ve had an interest in composing for dance for some time. Aside from being turned on to it by seeing performances through the years at places like the Boston Opera House and Jacob’s Pillow, Beth and I have been rabid fans of So You Think You Can Dance since the middle of season 2 :). As a composer my interest lies not only in the opportunity to collaborate with wonderful dancers and choreographers, but also in the broad possibilities available in the medium. That’s true in film as well, but in dance the music also gets to play a more significant role. However, outside of an experience helping prepare scores for a dance by John Kusiak for the Prometheus Dance Company and composing for a children’s musical many years ago, this was my first opportunity to compose for the medium.
From those experiences as well as having seen Urbanity dance earlier this summer I came up with a direction – kind of acousto-electric instrumental art-pop. I also felt it was important for the music to have mostly steady sections with transparent rhythms and phrasing that could be picked up on quickly in a one-off situation.
Of the two pieces that we used, director Betsi Graves choreographed and rehearsed a section of “Between You and Your God/Grace.” The piece germinated from an idea originally written for Touchdown Israel. It’s a soft, building groove with an ethnic, pastorale melody that hits a nice spot between acoustic and electronic. I wrote a loungy, Zero 7-inspired second section and a coda, creating a combination of ethnic strings and percussion with string quartet, electric bass and sound design elements. Watching the piece develop as the dancers picked up Betsi’s choreography was very inspiring. It reminded me of an orchestra rehearsing a new piece and hearing it come into it’s own as the musicians and conductor work through it the first few times.
The other piece, used during warmups, was based on ideas from The Way Home – Tibet in Exile, a film I’m working on that’s in the middle of some work-in-progress screenings with Women in Film & Video New England, the International Women’s Film Forum and others. This is a beautiful film about a Tibetan grandmother, mother and granddaughter in one family struggling to save and stay connected to their culture in ways reflected by their different generations. The piece is made up of two alternating sections – one uplifting and peaceful, the other darker and dissenting.
It was very rewarding getting to collaborate with Urbanity. Not only are they a very talented company, they also seem to be very sweet people that do great work in the community, including working with patients with Parkinson’s and individuals from underserved populations such as those who have experienced incarceration, homelessness and abuse. I’m sure the Boston community will be be hearing more from them as their reputation continues to grow.