It'd been a good long while since I'd been to the SLSO, but this seemed like a special opportunity.
Event: St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson, with the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Venue: Powell Hall
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 17 February 2012
1. Le nozze di Figaro Overture, K. 492, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1786
2. Arcangelo, choreographed by Nacho Duato, 2000:
a. Preludio (Largo) from Concerto grosso in F major, op. 6, no. 9, composed by Arcangelo Corelli, 1714
b. Vivace and Grave from Concerto grosso in G minor, op. 6, no. 8, "Fatto per la notte di Natale"
c. Adagio from Concerto grosso in G minor, op. no. 8
d. Preludio (Andante largo) from Concerto grosso in C major, op. 6, no. 10
e. Sarabanda (Largo) from Concerto grosso in B-flat major, op. 6, no. 11
f. Preludio (Andante largo) from Concerto grosso in B-flat major, op. 6, no. 11
g. Adagio and Vivace from Concerto grosso in D major, op. 6, no. 4
h. Largo from Concerto grosso in D major, op. 6, no. 7
i. "L'innocenza peccando perdeste" from Il primo omicidio, composed by Alessandro Scarlatti, 1707
3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048, composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, c. 1718
4. twice (once), choreographed by Terence Marling, 2011:
a. Within Her Arms, composed by Anna Clyne, 2008-2009
5. Concerto in E-flat, "Dumbarton Oaks", composed by Igor Stravinsky, 1937-38
6. As few as 3000, choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, 2011
a. Toccata e due canzoni, composed by Bohuslav Martinů, 1946
My first surprise of the evening was that the advertised Hubbard Street Dance Chicago did not hit the stage immediately. When the musicians and David Robertson came out, I became keenly aware of the open space on the stage left for the dancers, since the musical component of the evening was raised on an otherwise absent platform. The SLSO opened up with the overture of Figaro, which certainly made for a lively mood, but the piece itself offered no great surprise.
The next piece brought the picture into focus. Almost as soon as the orchestra bowed into the work, a pair of dancers hit the stage. The dance piece was set to an amalgamation of works by Corelli and Scarlatti, and as the musicians moved nearly seamlessly from one selection to another, so too alternated the dancing duos on the front stage.
The Brandenburg Concerto was another standard work done without choreographed accompaniment, but after the intermission this was followed by the much more dynamic and exciting Within Her Arms, a somewhat more abstract and moody piece that was matched by the dancers' rendition of twice (once). While the music often dwelled in distant realms of mild atonality and deep obscurity, the dancers too seemed to be playing with the spirits and the otherworldly.
Another unaccompanied piece, "Dumbarton Oaks", followed. It matched the feel and mood of the first half of the concert but almost seemed too familiar, which I found to be an unexpected response to a Stravinksy work. While blending a little too closely to ground already trodden, it also contrasted sharply with the works performed on either side of it, both of which had a far more experimental nature. The closing piece, Martinů's Toccata e due canzoni, was a little more unusual and presented me with something I was hitherto rather unfamiliar with.
The lasting impression is that the addition of a dance company to the performance entirely changed the aesthetic of the night. Normally, movement on the stage of a symphony orchestra is limited, constrained to small boxes. It is subtle and is focused solely on the movements required for the musical performance, with little extraneous motion or sound. The dance company, however, provided a dynamic, physical presence. One couldn't help but watch them. They drew the focus, and whenever they were present, the music became a background item, an easily overlooked element of the picture.
Although I enjoyed the dances quite well, I found it difficult to focus on both the motion and the music. Increasingly, I found myself giving up and just watching the dancers. This, then, led to a feeling of something lacking when the dancers were not accompanying the music. In retrospect, it is easy to understand that the dancers were likely worn out and needed time to rest between their performances, but as an observer in the moment it was hard to ignore the sudden lack of visual stimulus.
Hence, while I cannot begrudge the orchestra for performing while the dancers rested, it did make the evening feel unbalanced. The unaccompanied works began to feel like interludes that one wished would come sooner to an end. Nonetheless, the performances were solid, both by the orchestra and the dance company. The collaboration was fruitful, for the works in which they were on stage together stood out as a beautiful convergence of art forms.