in: Reviews

September 3, 2018

Incongruity Rules the Night

by

Shura Baryshnikov, Anna Ward (vocalist), Danielle Davidson (Daniel J. van Ackere photo)

Green Street Studios, the rehearsal-space-turned-stage, hosted a collaboration of Doppelgänger Dance Collective (Shura Baryshnikov and Danielle Davidson) with Ensemble Warhol on an abnormally warm Saturday night, during which two heavily incongruous routines paired to varying effect.

Ensemble Warhol and the pair of Baryshnikov/Davidson opened with “Men and Their Machines,” the Act I, Scene 5 aria from Warhol’s opera Jeanne. The aria starred soprano Anna Ward as the titular factory secretary, who commanded the stage with a gruff demeanor and reserved strength. Ward sang grittily and unapologetically, befitting her hardened and world-weary character. Baryshnikov and Davidson supported her in choreography that acted to realize her journey around operating machinery, represented by a minimalist staging of a pair of open wooden squares and a chair, and add a second realization of her emotions. The abstractions of machines and their operators fit the musical moments, heightening Ward’s character development and fleshing out the factory scene.

The ensemble, comprising the unusual instrumentation of Rane Moore on E-flat clarinet, Aaron Rivkin on baritone horn, Amanda Romano on harp, Matt Sharrock on rototoms, and Bob Schulz on timpani under the baton of Andrew Altenbach, added a unique sonic profile. Warhol described to this reviewer that each scene of the opera required a unique quintet containing two melodic wind instruments, and this particular scene utilized what instruments he had not used yet. For the most part, the orchestration worked, with Sharrock adding a visceral, mechanical edge to the palette while Moore, Romano, and Schulz harmonically supported Ward. Romano and Schulz managed to combine two very different and distinct timbres effectively, as timpani and harp usually make an unusual pairing, while Moore sang out over the quintet on her melodic fragments with the notoriously difficult to tune E-flat clarinet. Rivkin, however, was the only weaker link, through no fault of his own. The lines he played remained in a high tessitura for the baritone horn, causing fatigue (this reviewer plays tuba, the big brother of the baritone horn, so this conclusion comes from personal experience). Perhaps the performer could have benefited from a doubling cello or horn, but that would interfere with the conceit of the quintet’s construction.

Dancer/creative lead Heidi Henderson, Baryshnikov, and Davidson choreographed a deconstruction of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 4 in C Major, K. 157 (played by violinists Ethan Wood and Emma Lee Holmes-Hicks, violist Anna Griffis, and cellist Adrienne Taylor) in Elizabeth III. The foursome performed the second (minor key) movement of together, but most unusually, they played it part by part. Taylor started with a solo, followed by a duet of Griffis and Taylor, and ending with the full quartet twice, first time arbitrarily stopping and second time performing uninterrupted. From a theoretical perspective, these choices illuminated Mozart’s instrumental hierarchy and deconstructed it in an interesting way, highlighting all the internal voices (save for Violin II). Everyone played the delicate early Mozart quartet lyrically, a testament to their musicianship.

Andrew Altenbach conducts the ensemble (Daniel J. van Ackere photo)

Most striking, however, was Henderson, accompanied by Baryshnikov and Davidson, performing an abstract and disconnected dance. The trio walked around the circumference of independent chalk circles, parodied the minuet, slowly rolled on the floor, ate what appeared to be an egg, and sewed part of a dress’s train, all mostly in silence. Of the 45-minute routine, around eight minutes included the quartet, rendering the dance’s connections to Mozart tenuous at best and non-existent at worst. Henderson described the dance component as “without needing to find an about-ness” and “[a story existing] only in your imagination.” That could not be truer: there was no discernible connection to the existing quartet other than a brief parody of the associated baroque dance. That may have been intentional, however, as the movements seemed deliberately at odds with the music. Admittedly it was not this reviewer’s personal favorite deconstruction, but Henderson established her goals and fulfilled them, however nebulous they seemed.

Doppelgänger Dance Collective and Ensemble Warhol provided a fascinating, if not internally consistent, contemporary show. One dance mated a new piece of music with somewhat traditional choreography, while the other realized an older string quartet from the classical period with incongruous modern dance. The evening would entertain any fan of modern music and dance, especially one who could fully fathom the nuances of postmodern theory.

Ian Wiese is a doctoral student composer at New England Conservatory studying under Michael Gandolfi.

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