A Note from the Creative Director on the Dramatic Production "Danse Macabre."

By Hannah Barnard, writer, choreographer, and creative director of Artists By Any Other Name's "Danse Macabre" production. 

The story composed for this production represents a conceptual collaboration between Emily Petry (a fellow dancer/choreographer) and myself. The French title, Danse Macabre, literally translates to "Dance of Death." It is taken directly from from the title of Camille Saint-Saens' musical composition, which opens the Village Scene at the beginning of our drama.

The original concept of Danse Macabre was based on an old French superstition, which evolved into its own artistic genre during the late-medieval period in Europe. The superstition developed primarily in response to an overwhelming epidemic of the Black Death, a plague that mercilessly claimed the lives of anyone and everyone who stood in its path. Regardless of one's status in terms of wealth, education, or nobility, all human beings became universally united through the "Dance of Death." This legendary superstition emphasized the power of Death to level out the hierarchy of the living. Many medieval paintings and dramas depicted the personified character of Death summoning individuals from five different walks of life (a labourer, a child, a pope, a king, and an emperor) to dance together toward Death. Our own cast of characters is derived from this original set. The medieval labourer becomes our contemporary commoner; the child remains the same; the pope becomes our mystical priestess; the king becomes our Faerie Queen; the emperor becomes our narrator, who oversees the entire tale with a voice of sovereignty, yet ultimately joins the four travelers as each surrenders to her own inevitable fate.

When Emily and I set out to construct a contemporary drama rooted in this medieval allegory, we faced a number of challenging questions. How will we carry the theme of Danse Macabre all the way through an enormously varied range of musical repertoire spanning across several centuries of human history? How can we weave together such a diverse array of expressive media (music, choreography, poetry/spoken text, theatrical expression, animation) as one cohesive story line that will support the gradual development of our characters? Lastly, how does one transform the grim reality of the subject matter into an ultimately hopeful message? Is there a light of Life to be found in the depths of an old superstition designed to embrace the darkness of Death?

The answers, we hope, will reveal themselves to you over the course of our production. As the story unfolds before you, we invite you to immerse yourself in your own personal story. Just like the fictional characters of our drama, each of us will encounter a multitude of meaningful experiences throughout life as we make our own individual journeys across the "Passage of Time." The Winds of Change, the Value of a Friend, the Voice of Fear, the Shadow of Death, and the Beauty of Love comprise a timeless cast of personified characters whom we all may continue to discover, regardless of our various ages and backgrounds. Let us all come together this evening to witness the "Light...burst forth from the density of Dark/As a rainbow from the rock."

Warmly,
Hannah Barnard
 

Hannah, Emily, and Gwen work with the string quartet during a Creative Session. 

Hannah, Emily, and Gwen work with the string quartet during a Creative Session. 

A Glimpse Into November's Performance

Hair flies in the wind as dancers and musicians  rehearse together for the first time. 

Hair flies in the wind as dancers and musicians  rehearse together for the first time. 

In the drama “Danse Macabre,” written by choreographer/dancer and overall creative soul Hannah Barnard, a Commoner travels across the Passage of Time to capture the Winds of Change, intent on demanding that they turn her village back to the way it once was. Along the way, she discovers an unexpected truth: Fear, not Death, is the true enemy of Life. Punctuated by music, dance, and animation, Hannah concludes the story with a poem so staggeringly beautiful that I didn’t want the world to wait until November to hear it.

The beauty never broke.
It was only the window.

Quivering leaves,
stained glass,
Happy Birthday.

A bag of lavender
Petals in a candle jar,
Jam made from apples and roses.

The aroma of Death
Is the fragrance of Life,
A pungent potpourri of
Beautiful, broken memories.

Fragility,
Like the bone structure of a baby bird,
Will survive the severest of stranglings.

Light,
Air,
Space,
and
Color

Will burst forth from the density of dark
As a rainbow from the rock.

Artists By Any Other Name captures two themes on the evening of November 1st, 2015: Halloween and Day of the Dead. Halloween proves to be the more approachable of the two–exciting, fun-filled, and playfully frightening. Halloween means parties for both adults and children alike. It invokes images of revelry. Day of the Dead, on the other hand, requires quiet contemplation. It invites us to confront our losses. What, or whom, has each one of us lost to the Winds of Change that we may choose to remember on this day?

Join Artists By Any Other Name on November 1 to “think and feel fearlessly” on the Day of the Dead. Together, we will witness the beauty “burst forth from the density of dark/As a rainbow from the rock.”

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The Artists celebrate their first birthday!

by Morganne Aaberg (co-artistic director & violinist) 

This time last year I had just returned to New York. My nearly empty apartment waited on a bookshelf (I had splurged, shunning Ikea for a West Elm mango wood and wrought iron piece of massive proportions and equally large shipping costs) and all of my millions of books were staked in piles on the floor, against the wall. They didn’t quite belong there, and I didn’t feel as though I belonged either. I would walk to work every day, sitting in a windowless office from 9-5, and return to my sad little apartment and homeless floor-books exhausted and drained, feeling too weak to carry out my many creative impulses. I hardly touched my violin.

Then Harmonnia and I got to talking. We were both frustrated in our own ways, and we longed to create art on our own terms. In the Fall of 2014 we were only dreaming. Wondering what we could create and how we could create it. If we waited until we were completely organized with all of our ducks in nice neat rows, we would never accomplish anything. Our ideas would remain trapped in our heads as we talked and talked and never acted, like female violinist Hamlets. But one November day we decided to DO SOMETHING rather than sit around to-being or not-to-being. With only a vague idea of a Valentines’ Day themed concert and no collaborators confirmed on our collaboration-dependent project, we reserved a performance venue at the National Opera Center for February. We had paid for a venue, and now we had to create something to fill that space.  

Over time, our mission and identity has come into focus. For many months, every time I tried to describe us to an audience or colleagues I would hear myself tweak my spiel slightly to better describe what we do and why we do it. In our most recent grant application I described us in the following manner: “A multidisciplinary performance collective, Artists By Any Other Name increases the accessibility of classical music through concerts that utilize complementary media such as dance, drama, and visual art. We create cohesive productions by employing themes and narratives, giving each concert an overarching storyline.  We aim to revitalize classical music by presenting it in a context that engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds, both intellectually and emotionally. Artists By Any Other Name also collaborates with guest artists to incorporate other media into performances, such as poetry, film, and animation.”

The collective serves as a forum where we the artists–a core group of fourteen musicians and dancers–inspire each other, learn from each other, and challenge each other. Artists By Any Other Name’s process leading up to concerts consist of creative sessions and formal rehearsals. We generally meet twice per month for creative sessions, where we share our current work, ideas, provide feedback, and check in on upcoming performances. During these sessions we clarify how the music, dance, drama, and visual elements relate within the concert.We meet in smaller groups as necessary to rehearse specific repertoire.

Projects in our first season drew connections between Ancient Philosophy and 20th Century music. In “Love: Classical to Contemporary” and “Spring Fever,” musicians doubled as poets and Shakespearean actors. Dancers juxtaposed classical Latin music with contemporary movement vocabulary in “Latin Dances.”

We look forward to our second season. Our very first production, Danse Macabre, quickly approaches! In this new production we bring dance, animation, and an original narrative by artist member Hannah Barnard to the Halloween-themed concert. This marks our first collaboration with a visual artist. We are thrilled to introduce Chamisa Kellogg, California-based freelance artist and illustrator, into the creative mix. In January of 2016, we will further explore latin music and contemporary dance in “Tango Translations.” April brings a dramatic evening of transcriptions in “Night at the Opera,” and we hope to use historical film clips to accentuate our reproduction of old classics. We will reinvent Baroque dances with a modern twist in June with “Bitter Suite.” This production may become our largest collaboration yet– composers Alex Cooke and Katelyn Sweeney Ching have already agreed to create new work specifically for this project, and we may also work with a fabric sculptor to create visually stunning costumes for the dancers.

Last fall my life felt artistically empty. Now it overflows. A very small seed sprouted and grew, fed by passionate artists and interested audiences. Will it become as big as an oak tree? A giant California redwood? I look forward to watching as the growth unfolds.

Spring Fever: An Evening of Poetry and Music

I became interested in incorporating poetry into musical performance after collaborating with a poet on New Years of 2013. We were gathered for a memorial service, and the organizer of the event introduced us and suggested that we perform together. We had not met ahead of time, and when we arrived at the event we did not anticipate creating together. The poet read and I created improvised musical highlights to his language. The unique artistic product that resulted will never be replicated, because of its absolute spontaneity. I do not remember any specifics of what we sounded like together. I do, however, remember the audience’s stillness and attention, and the atmosphere charged with emotion. I also remember many people after the performance telling me how moving it had been to experience. I look forward to creating a similar experience with Spring Fever. 

In By Any Other Name’s upcoming performance Spring Fever: An Evening of Music and Poetry, we endeavor to explore the dialog between music and language. Many images and emotions evoked in poetry have abstract musical equivalents, and the two art forms, when placed side by side, have the ability to enhance one another. In this performance, we will match a spring-inspired poem to each piece: from Amy Beach’s explicit A Hermit Thrush at Morn, and Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, to more abstract examples of the joy of Spring, such as Bernstien’s Trio for violin, cello, and piano. 

Additionally, By Any Other Name dedicated a portion of the program to improvise to poetry read by Hannah Barnard. The musicians will not know the poetry selections ahead of time, and will improvise musical responses to the language that they hear. Hannah will choose the sequencing of the poetry based on the suggestion of the music, creating a living dialog between the music and poetry as they interact with one another. We hope to involve audience members in this part of the performance. Anyone who brings a typed copy of a spring-inspired poem receives half off of the $10 admission price. We would like to encourage the more extroverted audience members choose to read their poem themselves, while the introverts among you may delegate reading responsibilities to a friend or a member of By Any Other Name. We hope to give the music and poetry a life of its own and experience its spontaneous unfolding.

 

Cheers,

Morganne