New Orleans is a place with a rich musical history. It is also a city where musicians can make a living playing music, and where they are treated with a lot of respect and honor.
The role of music in contemporary dance is constantly being questioned and explored.
As a choreographer I feel that the culture of music in New Orleans has greatly influenced my work, and it has certainly informed the role the music plays in the work. One can find many genres of music here, but there is a dominant culture celebrating music that is raw, improvisational, sometimes a little bit messy, and often very passionate. The extemporaneous nature of this music allows it to be vulnerable, imperfect, and playful. Listening to music here can offer the same rush as watching a ballgame: there are rules, but people break them, and you do not really know what will happen next. This description of the attributes and experience of New Orleans music is one I would also feel comfortable using to describe my choreography.
There is also a community here around music. The community is not limited to a particular band but encompasses all the people who participate in the performance of the band by attending gigs, marching in parades, dancing in bars or on the street. People gather to hear music. Music is accessible, it is mobile, it is on the streets; musicians march and dance along in parades, on floats, in cars. There is engagement with the community beyond the gig. It is a physical practice that demands more than sitting in a chair or in front of a computer.
In this spirit of community I invite musicians into my process to play. To dance. To be physical with the dancers, so that a true kinesthetic connection can be formed. That bond doesn’t just end after a few exercises but evolves throughout the process into something organic between the individuals in the room. Sometimes the dancers alter the sounds the musician is making through their physical actions. Frequently the dancers’ own voices and bodies become a part of the score. While it is clear that certain people may be playing music and others are dancing, in my work there is a tangible sense that everyone in the piece exists in the same world, because they need each other, and because the musical composition and the choreographic composition maintain a degree of improvisation. There is an interdependency between the music and the dance without a definable lead and follow. The performers have to be listening to each other and in tune with each other to jam. Everyone in the room becomes a part of the band and a part of the dance.
Featured photo at top by Daryl Getman.