It's a darn shame that big art organizations don't collaborate with each other as often as medium and smaller groups do. Multi-disciplinary performances from avant-garde companies such as Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble's concert this week at The Barn call to mind the virtues that surface when great minds from different artistic practices interchange ideas.
At first, Frame Dance Productions director Lydia Hance felt hesitant, somewhat "terrorized" at the suggestion from Liminal Space founders, electric guitarist George Heathco and percussionist Luke Hubley, that Steven Reich's 2X5 could be presented with choreography. The relentless churning of the music's ear-splitting chordal textures posing a dilemma for creating a dance that both reflected on and added to the minimalist composition genuinely.
Because if the layering of art atop of art doesn't somehow illuminate and transform — what's the point?
Let's not discount that pieces such as Reich's mammoth 20-minute 2X5 are not by any means simple — they are deceivingly tricky. They require acute cerebral concentration to execute well and are exceptionally taxing for audiences to process, the music's subtle intricacies often floating in a hypnotic trance that blooms in bemusing gradations of sound color.
Scored for two rock bands — all together two drum sets, two pianos, four electric guitars and two bass guitars — 2X5, written in 2008, was intended as a dialogue between popular and classical traditions. Liminal Space, as the composer suggests, chose to perform 2X5 with five musicians plus a recorded track, a feat that marked the work's Houston premiere.
The dance provided an opportunity to better understand the score while juxtaposing an emotional abstract narrative that centered on how it feels to be released from a restrained environment.
Hance, as she explained, responded to the music by creating a framework anchored by clearly defined matrices that expanded from their contained spatial area, both in terms of the use of space and the movement vocabulary. What began with four dancers walking in unison, which echoed the tonal center of the music, broke away into independent pathways that developed into leaping solos, duets and trios.
Her approach mirrored the aesthetic of minimalism, which exploits what can be achieved with a limited number of elements.
What was remarkable in Hance's choreography is that she offered another access point for listeners to synthesize the perceived monotony of Reich's work. Whether on purpose or by accident, the dance provided an opportunity to better understand the score while juxtaposing an emotional abstract narrative that centered on how it feels to be released from a restrained environment — a triumph for Liminal Space, Hance and dancers Jacquelyne Jay Boe, Laura Gutierrez, Ashley Horn and Alex Soares.
Adding to the program was the world premiere of Robert McClure's Memory Variations for marimba and electric guitar, which was commissioned as part of Liminal Space's New Music Initiative. McClure, inspired by a conversation between author Nick Flynn and neuroscientist David Eagleman, fragmented a three-minute piece within another one as a commentary of the fickle nature of memory.
Could the listener tie together the snippets into a cohesive work?
Memory Variations had a different effect, however. If some music can be summarized as a sequences of questions and answers — think of the piano sonatas by Mozart and Haydn — McClure's work was experienced as a single lingering question that didn't have closure.
Also part of the Liminal Space New Music Initiative, Eric Martin's You didn't built that! for marimba and electric guitar was masterful in blending contrapuntal lines to render a foot-tapping rhythmical foundation that grooved satisfyingly. Orianna Webb's Sustenance Variations for piano, saxophone, electric guitar and percussion maximized the points of intersection between the sustaining abilities of each instrument.