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The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) hosted the annual dance program for this year's Music Carolina SummerFest, and it featured everything from gamelan to poetry to improvisation and jazz. The program began with Wake Forest University's gamelan percussion ensemble, led by Dr. Elizabeth Clendinning. The first piece was a traditional gamelan work, Sekar Sandat ("Balinese Flower"), followed by a "welcome piece" entitled Puspanjali ("Offering of Flowers") which had Clendinning performing choreography by Ni Swasthi Widjaya Bandem. I had heard gamelan music before, but had never seen the dancing that can accompany it. Seeing the subtle gestures used – like finger or shoulder movements and facial expressions – elevated their music to the next level. My favorite part of their performance was their final piece, Surya ("Sun"), composed by four-year ensemble member K.C. Pyle. Pyle, a banjo player originally, was inspired by Appalachian folk music, using its melodic and chord structures in his gamelan piece, and that coupled with Clendinning's choreography made for a truly unique experience.
The second piece on the program, Inner Musings, was choreographed and performed by Monet Beatty and featured fellow dancer Nicole Lonon accompanied by violinist Ruth Kelley. Kelley played a solo rendition of William Grant Still's "Mother and Child" from his Suite for Violin and Piano, and the piece began with only Kelley and Lonon onstage under dim blue lighting – cold and distant. As the music reached one of its melodic climaxes, though, Beatty joined the two, accompanied by warm light flooding the stage. The dancers intertwined their bodies and they mimicked each other's motions, showing that the lone dancer that started the piece no longer had to feel alone. But, Lonon eventually left Beatty alone onstage, and the roles from the beginning were reversed. It was an apt choice to use Still's "Mother and Child" for this work because it is about the relationship between, well, a mother and her child. The trio's performance was impactful because just about any interpretation of it can be meaningful, whether it represents a mother and child, a friendship, or simply the thoughts in one's mind (their "inner musings," as it were).
The third part of the program brought about a major change of pace, as it was a poetry reading featuring works from The Shack: Irish Poets in the Foothills and Mountains of the Blue Ridge, a book of poetry that draws connections between Appalachia and Ireland. I felt a deep personal connection to this poetry read by Jefferson Holdridge and Alex Muller and the artwork by Ken Frazelle shown behind them because it was all about the state I grew up in. It showcased the various things we all love (and do not love) about it. I felt most connected to the first poem read, Ciaran Carson's "Fiddlin' John's Big Gobstopper," because it detailed Carson's visit to my hometown of Mount Airy, NC. He came to explore bluegrass and old-time music (yes, there is a difference!) and in the spirit of Bob's Country Bunker from The Blues Brothers, I can indeed say that we have "both kinds" of music here. Anyway, Carson's poem, along with Frazelle's artwork and the other poems that were read, perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the Blue Ridge and created a wonderfully meditative trip through the mountains.
The final piece of the program was The heels have ears, a "structured improvisation porously directed" by Janice Lancaster. This was, by far, the biggest dance number of the night, featuring Lancaster, Kira Blazek Ziaii, Shelby Coon, Bekah Downing, Faith Fidgeon, and Kendall Ramirez. The piece began with a closed curtain, but slowly, as sparse jazzy music played, the limbs of the dancers crept out, and as more of their bodies made their way to the stage, it almost seemed as if they were slithering out. Once all the dancers were onstage, the curtain opened to reveal a jazz trio comprised of Michael Kinchen on saxophone, Matt Kendrick on bass, and Kassem Williams on drums. As the dancers made their way to their feet, they personified the instruments, matching their movements with the music being played, creating a conversation between their bodies. The momentum of the music and their movements slowly built into a frenzy as the piece moved along, eventually even having the houselights flickering and the dancers dashing up and down the aisles of the auditorium. I want to say there was even a mosh pit onstage at one point, but it was all such a blur and my anxiety was so high that I cannot fully remember. But, it all eventually wound back down, and the dancers shuffled back out of sight together. I am not going to pretend that I understood what it meant as a piece of art, but with the jazz, the curtains, their strange movements, and the chaos that ensued, I can appreciate the Twin Peaks of it all. I will always enjoy artworks that I cannot quite penetrate because they usually still leave me in awe, and this was no different. It was certainly a fantastic way to end the program.
The Music Carolina SummerFest will continue with performances throughout Winston-Salem through September 1st.