Music and movement have been paired together since the beginning of human existence. As a form of self-expression, dance combined with music is something that can appeal to all classes and types of people. The evolution of western dance as a social activity has been marked by changes in fashion and taste, as well as an overall shedding of formalization. Cedarwood Duo paired up with dancers Leah Gallas and Blake Nellis to demonstrate a range of dance music and styles from ballet to modern hip-hop.
To open the program Gallas and Nellis perform a pas de deux to the Siciliano from Bach's Flute Sonata in E-Flat Major, in which they showcase their own particular specialities: ballet for Gallas, modern dance for Nellis (see a video of their performance in MPR's Maud Moon Weyerhauser studio below). The Siciliano is a three-beat slow movement of a Baroque dance suite in which the emphasis is placed on the second beat. It evolved from a faster dance movement called Gigue.
Bach dance suite movements are a prominent feature of this program as the minuet — another three-beat, but slightly faster dance — was utilized to demonstrate improvisation by both the musicians and the dancers. Hannah Peterson Green improvised on her flute part by adding ornamentation to the melody line written by Bach, including trills, runs and turns to make it more fancy. Nellis, in turn, explained that while dance doesn't have a written score, it does have rules in the same way as music, and sometimes the dancers make up their own score or "improvise"(this is his favorite way to dance). They move to the music instinctually, making up their dance as they go along, using the vocabulary that they already have in their bodies. Some brave student volunteers were chosen to do a bit of improv with Nellis and Gallas to the minuet. They were given three rules for their score that were only revealed to the rest of the audience afterwards: move like nature, freeze or "pausing statues," and because "minuet" actually means "tiny steps," that obviously had to be included. It was really cute to see one student choose to copy exactly what Nellis was doing instead of improvising his own moves.
Both Gallas and Nellis had a chance to dance their styles as soloists as well. Gallas made a very delicate and graceful Sugarplum Fairy as she danced that famous solo from The Nutcracker. Nellis and Peterson Green impressed the students greatly with their performance of hip-hop dance and beatbox flute respectively. What is beatbox flute, you say? Well a composer and classical music YouTube sensation, Greg Patillo (perhaps best known for his beatbox flute cover of the theme to Super Mario Bros), wrote a piece that combined his flute and beatbox skills. It's really quite an incredible feat for the flutist, and Peterson Green has worked hard to perfect it. Nellis improvised a dance that included some controlled handstands, moving his body sometimes like the sounds from the flute or sometimes totally opposite. It was definitely based on however he was feeling in the moment.
Dance was never meant for only the stage or formal ballrooms of the upper-classes. Informal dance has always been common among lower classes, especially the young people. The steps have often been simple and repetitive so that they're easy to learn. The American rag was one such dance — but even if the steps aren't complex, the piano music certainly can be! African-American composer, Scott Joplin, wrote dozens of rags around the turn of the 19th century, at a time when it was becoming more common for lower-class families to have pianos in the living room. However, you would have to be quite the talented pianist (rather like Cedarwood's Joe Trucano) to get pieces like "The Maple-Leaf Rag" under your fingers. With octave leaps providing the "stride" beat on 1 and 2 (with the strong beat on 2) and the right hand playing the syncopated or "ragged" melody line, they can be quite a lot of work to learn! The advent of the family piano brought about more sheet music for singing and dancing just for fun.
Speaking of fun, or rather funny, Gallas and Nellis showed how dance can be used to tell a story — in this case, the story of a princess and her goofball. Accompanied by "The Dreamers" by Johann Strauss Jr. (known as the "Waltz King"), the princess really wants to waltz properly and have an elegant partner sweep her around the dance floor. Unfortunately, her partner is actually a silly type who would rather improvise and mess around with his modern dance. He doesn't understand how to waltz and he's not interested in learning. However when she storms off in an angry huff, he finally figures it out and decides to make her happy by waltzing, even if he does spin her around a little too enthusiastically! It's a fairy-tale ending, if you will.
If Cedarwood, Gallas, and Nellis, had any one message for the students, it was that if you find something that you love, go for it! You don't have to become a professional to play music or sports or dance for fun. You can improvise dance moves in your living room (with or without the shades down, depending on your comfort level) or sing in the shower or play basketball at the park with your friends. Whatever it is, you do you. But if you do decide to become a professional, it will take a lot of work and focus, and if you're ready for that then there's no time like the present. It will all be worth it.
Class Notes Artists are made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.