Williams Contemporary Dance Ensemble to perform at Mass MoCA

Thursday November 1, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- The work of a truly influential artist can transcend its medium to inspire new creations in unexpected places. So it is for the work of visual artist Sol LeWitt, which has inspired an evening of original dance and music tonight at Mass MoCA.

The Contemporary Dance En semble (or CoDa) of Williams Col lege will perform a new work devised as a response to LeWitt, paired with a piece of music by technology-inspired composer Tristan Perich -- a duet between live harpsichord and primitive electronics.

So how do they write a piece of music, or choreograph a dance work, in response to the brightly colored lines and shapes of a wall drawing?

Both Perich and CoDa founding artistic director Erica Dankmeyer pointed to LeWitt's use of detailed processes. Hired artists and draftspeople would carry out his blueprints to create large-scale pieces like the ones on display at Mass MoCA.

"There are a lot of interesting relationships between the idea of being a draftsperson and a dancer trying to execute the choreographer's intent," Dankmeyer said. "There's this idea that each wall drawing, executed via the same directions, does come out differently -- just as if you set dances in different contexts with different choreographers."

Perich has written music and created visual art powered by the computations of tiny microchips. His series, "Machine Drawings," is composed of wall drawings executed by a mechanical system working from computer code.

"LeWitt's thoughts about process becoming the material for a piece have been very inspiring for me as a composer," he said.

Tonight's event, wryly titled LeWitticisms, takes place in the LeWitt galleries of the museum, where an extensive collection of the artist's wall-sized drawings are on display. It also coincides with "The Well-Tem pered Grid," an exhibition of LeWitt's grid-inspired work now on view at the Williams College Mu seum of Art.

The LeWitt work on display at Mass MoCA and Williams is centered around simple shapes created by repeating lines. The grid-like sensibility informs both the dance and the music in tonight's program.

CoDa presented an earlier version of the dance piece last year, after the company worked on it throughout the academic year. Dankmeyer and assistant artistic director Janine Parker choreographed it, and ensemble member Niralee Shah, who graduated last year, wrote one section.

In the first incarnation, images of LeWitt's work were projected onto the floor. This time, the piece will come to galleries housing the real thing. The different "scenes" of the piece will lead audience members through different areas of the gallery.

This was not a natural project for Dankmeyer, Williams' dancer-in-residence since 2008 and a veteran of the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Though she found LeWitt's work compelling, she said, it didn't seem a natural fit with her own aesthetic.

"When I think about space, I think more about ellipses and spirals. And with LeWitt, the lines and linearity and the geometry of a lot of it was not something that's obvious for me," she explained. "(But) a lot of times when you have a blank slate, it's really hard to start creating. When you have rules and limits it actually makes it easier."

Fourteen student dancers will perform in the piece, along to recorded music that ranges from Bach to a song performed by locally based vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, written by group member Caroline Shaw, that includes phrases quoted from LeWitt's written instructions regarding his wall drawings.

Harpsichordist Karl Larson will perform Perich's composition, "Dual Synthesis," afterward, in duet with a four-channel track of simple tones created by 1-bit chips programmed to follow a score.

The simple devices create these electronic tones in the moment -- unlike, say, a backing track on compact disc. Perich said he considers it a live performance.

He did not write "Duel Syn thesis" specificallyas a re sponse to LeWitt, but Perich, a veteran of the Bang On A Can summer institute at MoCA, said he has wanted to hear it performed in the LeWitt gallery since its composition in 2009.

"It all revolves around the same idea of process as creating a framework for compositions. I think that's definitely the framework LeWitt works in, across most of his work," he said.

Did LeWitt imagine dancers moving about amid his works, or a duet between harpsichord and computer chips patterned in his mold? Perhaps not. But Le Witticisms will try to connect the lines.

What: CoDa performs ‘LeWitticisms' and Tristan Perich offers new work

When: Tonight at 6:30 and 8

Where: Mass MoCA, North Adams, in Sol LeWitt galleries

Admission: $8 for adults and $5 for students

Information: www.massmoca.org


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