Dallas — Celebrating 40 years of dance, Dallas Black Dance Theatre is looking forward to the future and into a new world of presenting dance—a world of that embraces technology and audience engagement. To being exploring that, they have commissioned choreographer Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Artistic Director for Elisa Monte Dance in New York City, to produce a work that places concert dance in a new space.
In the world premiere of The B-Side, Rea-Fisher will give audience members the opportunity to select from three original musical scores using wireless headphones as they view the performance. The idea came about several years ago as she was dreaming about creating a silent disco in a traditional proscenium theater space.
“I was curious about how sight and sound would be affected if you altered one of them but not both. I wasn’t sure how all of these would come together but Dallas Black Dance Theatre was incredibly supportive and once Michael [Thurber] said he would sign on as the composer, I knew I, at least, had to give this a shot.”
Thurber, a New York City-based composer, developed three different musical scores for the dance. The first feels like the B-side of a Motown album. The second has a more acoustic sound, and the third, an electronic synthesized mood. The headphones work a radio frequency. Users can switch between the three channels that contain the three different musical scores as often as they like.
“Never does a composer get to make multiple versions of music for the same dance. So, this is a dream come true,” says Thurber. “Many times in the creative process you have to cut a lot of great ideas. This enabled me to use more of my ideas.”
A sentiment that Rea-Fisher echoes. “It was a fully collaborative process. I would work on some movement in the studio, send Michael clips, [and] he would send me [back] a sketch of music. We would then discuss what he made, usually make some changes, and then I would take the newer sketch back into the studio. The B-Side has four sections, so we repeated this process many times…until we found something we both loved.”
With this custom-made musical experience, The B-Side raises an interesting question. What happens when the audience is allowed to customize their viewing experience? If we look at performance as a mirror on society, then Rea-Fisher’s work could be like playing DJ or even director.
“I wanted to play with the idea of the audience having some choice in their viewing experience. If they could pick the music, would they enjoy the piece more? I have no idea what the end result will be, but I’m excited to try it.”
While this idea—allowing the audience the opportunity to select the music that they are listening to—has been done before, most notably with SHUFFLE, a New York-based chamber music ensemble, and with silent discos and dance parties, it has yet to be explored in a concert dance setting (though it is used as an improvisational dance technique and choreographic composition exercise). And even though musical options available for the audience have been carefully curated and composed by Thurber, the opportunity for risk and chance that this performance creates is exciting.
Yet, will this new type of collaboration have any effect on the dancers’ performance—who will only hear one version of the song, which will be played softly through on-stage focused monitors?
Dancer Michelle Hebert is not too concerned, but does recognize that the possibility of not knowing what the audience has selected to listen to might pose some complications. “It will definitely affect how we feel the music…but, we will just have to make an extra effort to fill out the music for ourselves.”
And, will the audience be more engaged in the dance since they now have a sort of control over their relationship with it?
Rea-Fisher certainly hopes so. “For this piece I really thought of the audience as a co-creator, so I hope they feel considered and have fun with it. I hope the take-away is that you can have fun in the theater and be a part of the work even if you are not on stage. We are all in this together.”
In addition to world premiere of The B-Side, Dallas Black Dance Theatre will also perform a second world premiere, from Matthew Rushing of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Tribute is a dance that chronicles 100 years of African American dance masters, including Talley Beatty, Donald McKayle, Pearl Primus, and Alvin Ailey. Rushing’s choreography is supported by a grant from the TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund.
The company will also restage Christopher Vo’s touch (listen), which was first choreographed in 2014. The dance feels like a meditative journey, delicate in its approach and movement.