VNPAC: Let’s Dance!

[Ed. Note: Two years ago the American Music Center, American Composers Forum, and Meet The Composer joined forces to bring 75 composers from all over the country to Denver to participate in the National Performing Arts Convention (NPAC), a co-convening of the membership of Chorus America, OPERA America, the League of American Orchestras, Dance/USA, and Theatre Communications Group. This year, even though these organizations are meeting in cities across the nation—LA, Chicago, D.C., and Atlanta—we’ve recruited composers to attend all of these individual conferences and report back to us on NewMusicBox—a virtual NPAC with composer bloggers-in-residence. We heard from Nora and Anne last week, and now fasten your seatbelts as we cruise through three more powerhouse events! And wherever you are, feel free to join in!—FJO/MS]

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The House of Sweden

At the Dance/USA conference’s opening reception at The House of Sweden, I definitely felt like I was the only composer in the room. This did not, however, make me feel too out of place. Conference attendees are from all over the country, and while many of them know each other from previous conferences, they are also there to meet, socialize, and network. Also, being a Washingtonian, there were several people that I knew just from being active in the local arts community.



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Site-specific dance outside The House of Sweden.

I have walked by The House of Sweden many times but have never had the occasion to go inside. I watched it undergo construction a few years ago, and have always been fascinated by its wonderful Swedish aesthetic, so it was a real pleasure. The setting right next to the Potomac, just down a little bit from the Watergate and the Kennedy Center, is ideal.



Upon arrival at the reception, I couldn’t figure out what the caterers were doing with all these white bags on the steps of the embassy. It was only later that I realized that these were not waiters, but rather dancers—who probably were waiters anyway ;). To the left, you can see my photos of them dancing just outside of the embassy with the Potomac in the background. They were having fun, whatever it was that they were doing. The other thing that fooled me was the risotto that looked like creamed corn, which would have been an odd choice of food when one was expecting Swedish meatballs.



We then strolled along the Potomac to the performance at the Kennedy Center titled “Ballet Across America.” There were three companies. The Houston Ballet was very classical, five heterosexual couples in spiffy, but very classic ballet outfits. I did notice that the program simply stated “music by W.A. Mozart,” not mentioning which of his many works were played by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. It was, however, a beautiful live performance with strings only, and the live music was every bit as important as the dance.



The Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed a George Balanchine piece from 1960 set to Igor Stravinsky. With their black and white outfits, and the atonal music, it was very much like going to a museum to see a period piece. It was definitely a 20th-century academic sensibility. I could appreciate it without necessarily liking the lack of melody. The dancers moved well and were interesting.


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The author with Michael Ann Mullikin, Manager Dance Programming, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (left) and Barbra V. Blauhut, Director of Special Events, WETA (middle)

The third company, The North Carolina Dance Theatre, brought the house down with their dance to the foot-tapping music of Greasy Beans: live fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass and of course banjo. Their integration of classic ballet with cowboy two-stepping was quite refreshing and new, and a welcome contrast to Stravinsky. They got the whole audience clapping in rhythm for the whole last number. This was indeed the highlight of the evening.



After the performance there was a reception on the mezzanine lobby just for Dance/USA. There was plenty of wine and cheese, and it was easy to spot that the thin, young and good looking had been the evening’s entertainment. It was fabulous that these young dancers changed into elegant evening clothes to be part of the party. I’m not sure how much cheese they were allowed to eat, however…

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