by Johnny Nevin
If a really prestigious university could get a big enough research grant, they could do an epic study of artistic collaboration, and probably prove that it’s impossible. Any collaboration involving choreography and music should be especially improbable; the individual creative challenges of each are far too complex by themselves to start trying to share them, prioritize them, or somehow translate them into a single coherent process.
Despite all of the potential difficulties, choreographers and composers often work together, and few have been able to do so as consistently and convincingly as choreographer Alexandra Beller and composer Robert Poss. Each is a proficient contributor to their separately complex worlds. Beller has brought her company Alexandra Beller / Dances through ten acclaimed years of dance making and dance performance (creating what the New York Times has called “strong, deft, emotionally resonant theatre); Poss continues to make widely admired music with the originality and intensity of someone exploring brand new worlds, even though he has enough history and discography to choke a search engine. Their successful collaboration as choreographer and composer quietly defies the challenges of all such endeavors, and this April, audiences at New York’s Joyce Soho will have the chance to see their latest work together, Beller’s “Other Stories”.
“Other Stories” is the most recent project in Beller and Poss’ multi-year collaboration, but beyond the noteworthy news of an important work from an intriguing choreographer, set to an original score by an inspired composer, there lies another narrative. Rich and complex like a good mystery, it’s the surprising story of how a choreographer and a composer share their indefinable creativity.
Artists who work together have to move through a series of difficult creative decisions, advancing separate inspirations toward a single result. They have to somehow find a process that can accomplish this, but process can be the most dangerous part of collaboration. It has to be shared, understood, and agreed upon, whether explicitly or not, and neither individual can possibly be as comfortable as they would be with their own individual approach. Beller and Poss share an ability to not only accept this, but to welcome it. “I try to be out of my comfort zone more often than not,” Beller says, “I try to be lost for a large part of my process.” Poss is equally ready to welcome the unknown. “Out of the comfort zone is a fun place for me to be. I’m aware of my strengths and limitations. It’s nice to get push-pulled into a new area where you find new strengths.” Each of them seems to be able to suspend their own creative direction long enough to be sure they understand the other’s.
Both artists have an unusual awareness of process; Beller’s, paradoxically, is both carefully thought out and rigorously intuitive. “Other Stories” is the complex product of her imaginative approach to a fundamental artistic challenge, how to make a fully-realized work from moments and pieces of inspiration. At alexandrabellerdances.org she writes, “The fallout from our lives, like flakes of snow in a snowglobe, is suspended inside of us. I am working to find a way to describe our lives physically and emotionally, through unconscious storytelling. The process will include copious amounts of writing and improvising, and eventually will reveal a set of vivid, interconnected stories from each performer.”
Poss is not as explicit in his definition of process, but in a different way just as emphatic. His success as a composer followed his accomplishments as a guitarist; Tape Op Magazine described him as a “guitar genius … the master of treated and manipulated guitars”, and this mastery is rooted in his intuitive ability to use process as a creative method. At robertposs.com you find this description of the beginnings of his unique sound: “Eventually Poss realized that the sound of feedback, distortion and ringing overtones was “the cake, not the frosting” and began trying new ways of writing songs by layering simple chord patterns over drones and looped riffs.” Like Beller, his approach to the challenge of successfully expressing an abstract idea is rooted in an understanding that how you make art can in many ways determine what art you can make.
Beller and Poss’ work together on “Other Stories” represents a progressive development in their collaboration. Beller’s emphasis on inclusion is strong, but she doesn’t usually begin her process with music. “Music always comes in later, because I’m very easily swayed by music,” she explains. In “Other Stories”, though, Poss’ involvement was more integral, and Beller’s description of the change is illuminating. “I’ve never allowed myself to be led by the music at this level. In the past, movement has come first, then Robert would put music on top of the material and we’d knead them together for some time. In this project, Robert and I were simultaneously making parallel choices, working on two parallel tracks, which we would then draw together until they converged. We would see what kind of friction was created, what kind of magic was created.” Like Poss, Beller is comfortable in a broad landscape of possibilities, open to a wide spectrum of possible expression.
Writing about the individual experiences and story lines that together are the subject of “Other Stories”, Beller defines the articulate elegance of her vision for the work. “These stories collectively make us who we are as individuals. As a group, these stories create a series of woven patterns that function as relationships. Those relationships create a community.” The audiences that see Alexandra Beller / Dances perform “Other Stories” at Joyce Soho this April will see a series of richly researched individual narratives that Carrie Stern, writing in the Brooklyn Eagle, describes as “evocative and moving”, set to an imaginative original score by a multi-gifted composer.
They will also hear and see the silent and invisible traces of another unique story, the story of how individual vision can evolve, change and grow in ways too intricate to remember, too abstract to identify, in the artistic collaboration between a choreographer and a composer.
Performance Schedule & Ticket Purchase – Apr 4, 8, 13, 19 & 21 at 7:30pm, Apr 7 & 15 at 2pm
Johnny is an independent music producer, and the Resident Composer and Sound Designer for Thodos Dance Chicago. He is a member of the musical group ‘ohana Dreamdance, whose releases imaginatively interweave original scores for choreography with beat-driven dance tracks. Johnny’s original compositions and sound designs have been featured in the repertories of a wide range of professional Dance Companies, and have been performed all around the world.
Johnny Nevin writes extensively about choreography and music at 4dancers.org and at aotpr.com. His writing expresses the unique creative approach that has made him successful both as producer and sound designer, by seeking always to better understand what other artists are trying to make.
Johnny is the Music and Dance writer at 4dancers.