Published on March 21st, 2014 | by Katy Evans


Sonata da camera: the music and movement of CHAMBER

The roots of chamber music reach all the way back to the Medieval period, but since its inception it has always been about the intimacy of a small group of musicians playing together. Chamber music isn’t relegated to the professionals, it’s considered the “music of friends,” an opportunity for amateurs and experts alike to come together and connect through music.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described chamber music as “four rational people conversing” and this concept of communication has continued to play an important role in the development of chamber music. So what happens when we expand the conversation and make this communication about both music and movement? I can’t wait to find out at CHAMBER: an evening of dance and chamber music presented by MLKBallet and the City of Tacoma.

CHAMBER is the music – and dance – of friends Faith Stevens (the primary choreographer of CHAMBER and executive director of MLKBallet) and Brad Hawkins (composer and cellist); but the work is bigger than just the meeting of these two minds. This performance came together collaboratively between two of Tacoma’s very active and very intertwined creative cultures: dancers and musicians.

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Faith was approached by Caroline Swinehart, a local pianist, about the idea of developing an evening-length show combining chamber music and contemporary dance. Caroline’s idea was inspired from her experience seeing MLKBallet’s past shows, and the Warehouse-produced Lemolo concert that combined live music and dance.

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Intimately familiar with the conversational aspect of chamber music through her years as a chamber pianist, Caroline wanted to see an interdisciplinary performance that could highlight that special quality.

“Chamber music relies on the physical communication that goes on between the players. “ Caroline shared. “Strong listening and playing skills alone will not usually produce musical coordination. Chamber musicians plan signals to each other, for instance making eye contact or nodding in tempo, to say things like, ‘this fast,’ or, ‘I’m waiting for you.’ In this way, dance can be a natural partner in the musical process. CHAMBER includes this kind of interplay between the musicians and the dancers.”

Faith loved the idea. “The more I thought about the two art forms, I was struck with some of their similarities,” Faith shared. “Both have histories rich with tradition and technique, both are constantly being reinvented and reworked; there is a constant play between old and new. With the title, CHAMBER, and with the show itself, our hope is to create an inviting space where the audience can experience the history and culture of these two art forms as we define them for ourselves today.”

Faith has been choreographing for five years but CHAMBER is her most ambitious effort to date. CHAMBER features five dancers and four musicians, and throughout the development of the performance, Faith kept in mind not just the dancers relationship to the music and the musicians, but also CHAMBER’s communication with the audience.

”For me as a dancer and choreographer, one of my favorite things about presenting work in Tacoma is that often it is an audience member’s first time seeing contemporary dance. I want it to be a great experience, and one that feels accessible and meaningful to them personally,” Faith explained. “MLKBallet produces contemporary dance shows as a way of building a dance audience and to provide our students, and their families, opportunities to experience dance right in the Tacoma community.”

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Reinvention and play between the old and new extends beyond the meeting of music, dance, and audience in CHAMBER; communication influences all aspects of the performance: the sort of music and the kinds of musicians making up the chamber ensemble, and the costuming.

Brad’s composition highlights the inherent reciprocity in chamber music by bringing together original music with 20th century works from Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, and John Cage.

CHAMBER features classic chamber musicians: a cellist, pianist, and violinist, who in the second half of the performance will be joined by Joe Garvin, an electronic musician. Joe will intertwine his virtuosity with that of the classical musicians, mixing and manipulating their sounds as they play. Here again, the communication of “chamber” is reinterpreted with a new kind of voice and movement.

“Working in a very short timeline with a small budget has a great way of forcing creativity,” Faith explained when describing the impetus for the inventive CHAMBER costuming.

“We staged our promotional photo shoot with Scott Haydon in an empty apartment. The imagery of the empty room, the idea of a space left alone, closed up, paired in our minds with the image of furniture draped with dust cloths. I draped simple bedsheets to over myself and dancer April Nyquist, and once we reviewed the photos, the sheets didn’t appear simple, but statuesque. The connection to classic figurative sculpture ties in really well with the CHAMBER theme of exchange between the old and new. The photos turned out so well that the sheets are incorporated into the show’s costuming as well.”

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CHAMBER is produced thanks to an Arts Project Grant through the City of Tacoma. Other local organizations have joined the City in supporting this project including The Warehouse, Urban Grace, Barefoot Collective, and Tacoma City Ballet, to name just a few.

You can win a pair of tickets to CHAMBER by emailing me anytime between now and 5 pm on March 26; winners will be chosen at random and will be notified on Thursday, March 27.

See CHAMBER on March 29, 7 pm at Urban Grace, 902 Market Street. $8. Get tickets here.

On March 23, 11 am, the public is invited to a free open rehearsal at Schneebeck Hall on University of Puget Sound Campus.

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All photographs by Scott Haydon.

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About the Author

Founder and Co-Managing Editor at Post Defiance, Katy writes and fundraises for Tacoma. Follow her @katynicoud.

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