Body of Work
SpectorDance debuts a new Rock Ballet.
Thursday, June 1, 2006
Live rock and classical ballet? At first the restrained grace and precise choreography of ballet set to the hard backbeat and loose boogie of rock ‘n’ roll seems like an odd combination. But it works.
Local choreographer Fran Spector Atkins of SpectorDance in Marina has found a way to suggest the abandon of rock within the context of classical ballet. Her dancers twirl and hover in moves that subtly hint at Dionysian release without succumbing to it. The ensuing tension drives the work.
The result is the simply titled Rock Ballet, a four-song ballet set to the beautifully crafted original songs of Kurt Burkhart, which will be performed for the first time at SpectorDance’s Spring Performance this Saturday. It’s a unique collaboration with an odd point of
Atkins and Burkhart met when she came to him as a physical therapy patient.
“He mentioned he was a musician as well as a physical therapist,” Atkins says. “I asked him to bring me a CD, loved what I heard, and gave him a video of my work.” Burkhart was impressed with what he saw.
“I watched that DVD and was just in awe of the dancers’ level of athleticism, and I immediately began thinking it was something I wanted to do,” he says.
He was even more convinced when he saw SpectorDance’s professional space in Marina.
“I didn’t think it was going to be that elaborate,” Burkhart says. “I was surprised. I’d imagined it would be a room with a wooden floor, a mirror on the wall and a stool. As soon as I saw the space I knew I had to do it.”
His decision resulted in a six-week collaboration that Atkins has called “spontaneous and magical.”
For the last 10 years, Atkins has built a reputation for staging complex, socially-conscious multimedia works. She calls Rock Ballet a major shift. Featuring a live four-piece band and five dancers, the piece has brought a different quality to her choreography, Atkins says.
“This is more direct and simple, not so layered. There have been some choreographic breakthroughs,” she says. “I usually don’t use live music. It’s opened different places in me. The experience has been amazingly organic and interesting.
“I tend to be more intellectual and this has been more earthy and visceral. The musicians are very wonderful to work with. The dancers have been really responsive to them.”
And for good reason. The band, a group of local and Los Angeles-based studio musicians playing under the name Burkhart, rocks. Michael English plays drums and percussion (he’s also the other half of the Burkhart’s acoustic duo The Openers), Michael “Gus” Agostinelli mans the bass, and Deric Morin adds additional percussion.
In addition to his local performance and physical therapy business, Burkhart also is the co-owner of LA’s Pulahaole Productions, a recording studio where Agostinelli is a sound engineer and Morin co-produced projects with Burkhart. Pulahaole will be releasing Burkhart’s self-titled debut CD in less than a month. It contains the four songs that inspired Atkins to create Rock Ballet, a piece which she describes as “a meditation on the human yearning to connect from the heart.”
Atkins chose four songs from the CD to choreograph—“Overhead,” “Undone,” “Time Out” and “Against the World.” The opening two songs are solo dances, the first by Barbara Guisi, the second by 15-year-old Kelsey Forbrush. “Time Out” is a duet featuring Adrienne Cousineau, who will attend New York’s Fordham University on a full scholarship in the fall, and Pamela Keindl, who danced with Charles Anderson in the Bay Area and now teaches at Robert Louis Stevenson High. The last of these songs, “Against The World,” is a gorgeous Peter Gabriel-esque rocker that includes Guisi, Forbrush, Cousineau, Keindl and Reed Scott, the most experienced and only male dancer in Rock Ballet.
Burkhart acknowledges he’s been “indelibly stained by listening to Peter Gabriel,” but his music attains a far broader spectrum. In addition to the Gabriel-esque tracks, his debut CD includes both traditional rock and more electronic music.
Both Burkhart and Atkins agree that Rock Ballet may be the beginning of something bigger.
“I think Kurt and I are beginning to realize we have a lot more potential,” Atkins says. “The next piece will be more challenging because we’ll start from scratch instead of using music of his that’s already written.”
ROCK BALLET happens Saturday at 2pm and 7pm in the SpectorDance space at 3343 Paul Davis Dr. in Marina. The performance will also include “Alice in Wonderland,” “They Only Come Out At Night” (by visiting guest artist Lawrence Pech) and “Variations from Don Quixote.” $15/adults; $8/children and seniors. For more call 384-1050 or visit spectordance.org.