Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) Creative Director of Digital Content, James Darrah,  said, “Chamber music has a sense of closeness, intimacy and proximity.  But right now, we are all at home.  We are all isolated.  We’re all living in Close Quarters.”   For the 20/21 season, LACO musicians and a team of Los Angeles artists worked together to meld compelling classical music performances and compelling visual elements. Cutting-edge film and cinema techniques are a hallmark of the series.

On Friday, January 29th, the series presented two works that were not purely classical but had elements so ancient and historic they should be called that. Derrick Spiva’s musical exploration runs deep, to West Africa, North Africa, Eastern Europe and traditional American folk music, as well as European classical music. In the pre-performance discussion, Spiva described the musical blend as “Electro-Acoustic.”  The Washington Post identified Spiva as one of “21 composers and performers who sound like tomorrow.”

Mother of Bravery was an exploration of the path from fear to courage, and the emotional transformations that take us from our ancestral roots to our present selves.  With spoken word, we were drawn into a contemplation of our parents, grandparents and their forbears, and the courage it took for them to provide the necessities for their families – and ultimately for us.  The theme:  Fear is the mother of bravery.  Solo violin and other instruments join the conversation as the performer uses gesture to commune with family heirlooms and photos. The dancer in this piece moves in a way that deepens the personal connection between the historic and the personal.  Her sweeping curves, undulations and gradual progressions from up reach to grounded motion take us into ourselves, and we share with her the longing and hope that take us from fear to brave action.  The delicate touch of her hand on her face brings a sense of intimacy and quiet determination.

Derrick Spiva Jr. and Tereza Stanislav IMG_2757 Derrick Spiva Jr IMG_2760 Derrick Spiva Jr IMG_2770 Tereza Stanislav and Derrick Spiva Jr. LACO_TerezaStanislav 2 ByJasonStang Shauna Davis
In white Tereza Stanislav and Derrick Spiva, Jr. during filming - Close Quarters - Derrick Spiva, Jr. - Close Quarters - Behind the scenes photo by Ben Cadwallader/LACO

Mind The Rhythm is intended to celebrate the holistic nature of what it means to be an artist.  With that descriptor, one might imagine a vastly different feeling from the prior work.  However, I felt the two works were married, thanks to certain elements that aligned in both.   The combination of rhythms, instruments, figural and dance visuals took me on a similar journey.  Mind The Rhythm grew gradually into a more intensive set of pulses and solo violin.  The visuals were more sculptural and demonstrated more contrast. The dancer and a solo figure at first appeared to be from different worlds, but they come together and become less remote.  The dancer, who began in black, is illuminated in red, glowing as she wraps herself in her own arms. The quiet conclusion to this work is mysterious, but we know it is time to take a breath and revel in the feeling of harmony.

Often when reviewing dance, I describe the scene and movement so that the reader can get an image of what was presented.  In the case of these two works, the details were myriad, but parsing them does not feel right. That would be like reviewing each thread in a multi-layered tapestry. Fortunately, the artists have already done that.

I allowed the experience to wash over me. I was truly immersed. I loved the personal quality.  I loved the narrative quality of Mother of Bravery. I loved the abstraction of Mind the Rhythm. I loved noticing an African rhythm juxtaposed with a melodic line voiced by a violin, followed later by a Middle Eastern feel from the reeds. I noticed that the extremely popular business of using percussive flashing light behind and within the presentation did not bother me the way it has done in other (non-LACO) productions. The judicious choice to gradually change the background light to draw focus to the center action was a blessing, in my opinion.  I know that traditionalists would prefer that treatment be retired altogether, and that groundbreakers like the excitement it generates.

Because this work is available to view, and the LACO website has clear descriptions of the compositions, you may immerse yourself in the details and background as deeply as you wish. I sincerely hope you do.

Curator and Composer: Derrick Spiva, Jr.; Violinist: Tereza Stanislav; Choreographer/Dancer: Shauna Davis; Musical Artists Jaime Martin, Conductor; Margaret Batjer, Violin; David Grossman, Bass; Joshua Ranz, Clarinet; Kenneth Munday, Bassoon; David Washburn, Trumpet; Steve Suminski, Trombone; and Alex Frederick, Percussion.

To view this performance, click HERE.

To watch the Musical Conversation Pre-Broadcast, click HERE.

To learn more about the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, click HERE.

Written by Mary Pat Cooney for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: (L to R) Derrick Spiva, Jr., Tereza Stanislav, Shauna Davis – Close Quarters – Behind the scenes photo by Ben Cadwallader/LACO