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.