Song and Dance


StagedTwo compelling performances.

by Phillip Ratliff

 

When archeologists go digging through the layer of rubble corresponding to Birmingham’s first 150 years, they’re bound to notice this: The Magic City was, from its inception, a haven for visionaries and scrappy entrepreneurs. Let this record show that, among our iron and steel magnates, medical pioneers, and real estate moguls, there was an ambitious coterie of modern dance enthusiasts making their way in a city that didn’t always have time for them. Resourceful leaders with outsized, often idiosyncratic personal visions drove Birmingham’s vibrant modern dance scene.

Of the modern troupes I have had opportunity to see, Sanspointe Dance Company is probably the most perplexing. This is not a dis–quite the opposite, because I think there’s something to Sanspointe that eludes me. Their choreographic language registers more as cryptic rune than unmitigated nonsense; it’s a code I’d really like to break.

Who better to ask for help than Sanspointe artistic director Taryn Ann Brown? She offers this helpful primer on appreciating her company’s choreographic language: “An interesting way to watch our dances is from a kinesthetic point of view; picture it as though you are doing it,” she says. “Sometimes the viewer should imagine he or she is the dancer, and ask, ‘If I were to do that, how would it feel? Am I reaching? Am I longing? How does that feel in my muscles and my psyche?’ Another way is to just take in the actual sights and translate dance into shapes and geometry, an almost scientific approach. The spectator can decide to interpret their own story or denounce narrative all together and take it in for its physical beauty.”

Brown started her dance career with cheerleading and competition dancing and has even danced in a hip hop company. Despite her fluency in vernacular movement, she is committed to keeping Sanspointe firmly rooted in the fine arts tradition. Brown shaped her fine arts sensibilities through undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and graduate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She imbues her work at Sanspointe with a solid knowledge of dance history and theory. “Audiences should come to Sanspointe performances like they’re going to an art museum or avant garde musical concert,” Brown says. An open mind is key. Viewing Sanspointe works within in the framework of the fine arts tradition will go a long way.

A great opportunity to learn more about Sanspointe’s artistic sensibilities will roll out over the next three months. Sanspointe has organized a series of salons, to feature short works by up to six choreographers per gathering, supplemented with lively discussion and critiques. The salons will take place on the second Fridays of June, July, and August at the Children’s Dance Foundation. There will be a suggested donation of $5 at the door. Besides seeing new dances, audiences will discourse with Sanspointe company members while offering feedback on the performances and, presumably, glimpses into the understanding of the question, “What is dance?”

And if you just can’t wait, you can see Sanspointe performing one of their own works, IMPROVable FICTIONS, a set of site-specific pieces, on May 17, 12–3 p.m., in various locations around Birmingham. Check their website at www.sanspointe.org for more information.

 

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Bassoonist Tariq Masri joined the Alabama Symphony in 2000, a year out from his musical training at the Cleveland Institute of Music. For the past 13 seasons, Masri has performed in an organization that has gained national attention for its adventurous programming and performance style. As a bassoonist, Masri usually acts as a supportive character providing the low end of the woodwind choir or lovely filigree to a structure held together mostly by strings. On May 16 and 17, Masri will take center stage, performing Mozart’s Concerto for Bassoon on the ASO’s Regions Masterworks series. His performance marks his fourth solo with his home orchestra.

At 41, Masri is into his third decade of knowing the Mozart concerto. It’s a piece, Masri has come to believe, that lets the bassoon become what it is meant to be, the orchestral equivalent of a baritone voice. “My teacher [the heralded David McGill, performing at the time with the Cleveland Orchestra] always stressed that the bassoon should sound like the human voice,” he says. “The sound is like an eight ball, dark but with a reflecting light. The possibilities of coloring sound are amazing. For every note I play, there are several ways of configuring the keys, each with its own distinct color.”

I asked Masri to help me get at the soul of a piece that has been something of a companion to him over the years. He had a ready answer: “This is a serious piece, with a noble, beautiful operatic quality. It’s the greatest piece for my instrument. Mozart really knew how to write for the bassoon. Though Mozart was a teenager when he composed it, the concerto has great depth. The older I get, the more I appreciate it.”

For more information on the concert, visit www.alabamasymphony.org.

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