When Choreography and Composition Intersect : Concert: Artists from L.A. Chamber Ballet and the music-writers collective Lo-Cal collaborate for a performance in Little Tokyo this weekend.
Lo-Cal Composers, the local music-writers collective now marking its 10th anniversary, has changed membership and shifted priorities constantly but gradually over an eventful first decade. But the seriousness, wit and exuberance that many admired at its debut concert in September, 1984, still remain.
Los Angeles Chamber Ballet, the 13-year-old troupe founded here by Raiford Rogers and Victoria Koenig, continues its pursuit of artistic excellence and new collaborations both on the road and in a number of Southern California venues.
This weekend, Lo-Cal and LACB come together at the Japan America Theatre in Little Tokyo. The featured composer at their performances is Sandra Tsing Loh, who joined Lo-Cal just a year and a half ago.
Tsing Loh represents the quintessential 1990s composer-pianist-wordsmith in our city of the future: polymathic; multitalented; crossover-minded; musically and culturally sophisticated. Not surprisingly, her four high-achieving Lo-Cal colleagues--Christopher Guardino, Murielle Hamilton, Roger Neill and Carlos Rodriguez--have been described as similarly ambitious and talented. They are all in their early 30s.
With each season, Lo-Cal seems to seek new venues and avenues, fresh challenges, untried collaborations. “This year, we’re going to try to go vocal,” says Rodriguez, with some glibness, naming just one area of composition that currently fascinates the members.
This week, two of these composers are providing music for LACB. Scores by Tsing Loh and Neill form the sound-basis for new choreographies by LACB director Raiford Rogers and by Laurence Blake, danced by 14 members of the company.
Tsing Loh says Rogers was “trolling for composers” when he attended a performance of music by the Lo-Cal group last fall at the L.A. County Museum of Art.
After meeting Tsing Loh, the choreographer asked to hear several of her pieces. The one he eventually chose, and which receives its dance premiere this week, was originally called “Night of the Grunion"--a performance piece intended to be played on the beach at Malibu to encourage spawning by grunion.
Seen in rehearsal last week, the 11-minute ballet, now called “Cabin Fever"--the title inspired by a painting by Susan Rothenberg, Rogers says--turns out even more visceral and dramatically compressed than the score with which it wrestles.
The choreographer talks about the “coiled energy” in the sound-score (for solo piano and electronic orchestra), about how it resembles “a train that is not moving,” or, to change images, about how it has “a healthy itch.” What was Rogers’ process in setting this music to dance?
“I listen endlessly. Then, when I come to make the dance, I sit at a table and I start with bar one.” Later, he says, he tries out the moves with his own body, but not too strictly. “I don’t want to set my limitations on the dancers.”
He shows a visitor to the studio his workbook, filled with page after page of specific but practically undecipherable drawings of stick-figures, in temporal order, with motion indicated by arrows.
“Art happens when two ideas intersect,” Rogers claims.
Composer Tsing Loh, after seeing the barely completed new piece, agrees. “I didn’t know what to expect,” she says, “but the ways in which he has gone counter to the musical motion make tremendous sense. Things seem to mesh.”
The dance performance will open with Neill’s “Delta Dervish.” Played by the Greene String Quartet and danced by the artists of LACB, this will be the world premiere of both music and choreography. The other dance piece on the program is Blake’s “Tunnel” (1992), to music of Eric Ruskin.
Also on the agenda are world premieres of musical scores by Guardino (two songs, sung by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Vlahos), Hamilton (“Shed, Swoon & Skank”) and Rodriguez (“Crazed Corollaries” for “solo, amplified, processed” clarinet, played by Marcus N. Eley.