While it’s possible to have dance without music and music without dance, the two art forms were made for each other, and when they come together in just the right fashion, something “transcendent” is possible.
That’s the word that kept coming up when Susan Jaffe, choreographer, and Bruno Louchouarn, composer, sat down for a conversation in one of the dance studios at UNC School of the Arts last week.
Jaffe and Louchouarn are collaborating on “Carmina Terra,” a dance for five male and seven female dancers, that will have its world premiere next week as part of “Spring Dance” at the Stevens Center.
Jaffe, who is dean of the Dance Department, began work on the piece during UNCSA’s inaugural summer Choreographic Institute in 2017. She described the dance as “a moody and plotless work inspired by the transcendence of the human spirit.”
“I am using this as a tool to get them to learn how to learn,” Jaffe said. “The really great dancers are the most focused people I’ve ever seen.”
It’s important for a dancer to be able to visualize the steps before they do them, she said.
“You are sculpting your body in space with your mind,” Jaffe said. “Dancers can be equally talented, but the one who can see the hole-in-one before they take the stroke is the one who will succeed.”
Jaffe and Louchouarn had collaborated on another dance, “Metallurgy,” which had its premiere at “Winter Dance” in 2015.
“I’ve gotten used to him, and he’s gotten used to me,” Jaffe said. “We’ll talk for a while, and he comes up with some music. Then we’ll get together and talk about intention.
“I’ll describe a lot of words, like ‘transcendent.’”
Both artists said that this dance is very different from “Metallurgy,” which included metallic clangs and heavy percussion.
“It is much more human, Neoclassical and melodic,” Louchouarn said. “My music is not super-strange. I like symmetry ... and then non-symmetry — like the dance.
“I found there was much humor in it. The music includes piano and strings, some percussion — tympani, marimba, glockenspiel. The second movement is slow, majestic, mature, inspiring — and transcendent.
“We wanted it to be something that transported you. It is hypnotic.”
They were still working on the last movement on Wednesday. “The closer we get to the deadline, the faster it goes,” Jaffe said. Friday was the deadline, when the production moved into the theater and dress rehearsals began.
“There’s a basic concept,” Louchouarn said. “But the last 1½ minutes — the finale — won’t get written until after all the other music is written and the dance is choreographed. I’ll get my inspiration from that.”
The title, “Carmina Terra,” Latin for “Earth Songs,” came late in the process.
“It was inspired by the music and the movement,” Louchouarn said. “I love a good title.”
Both artists are storytellers, even in their abstract work.
“We tell each other stories,” Louchouarn said. “It’s deepened our connection.”
Jaffe’s way of choreographing is precise and connected to the music.
“Susan likes to work with clarity and architecture,” Louchouarn said. “There is a very specific musical count.”
“There are a lot of great choreographers who don’t care about the music,” she said. “But I don’t see how they do it.”
The female dancers will be en pointe, but Jaffe says it’s not a ballet.
“I want the precision of ballet legs,” she said, “but not ‘positions.’ I’m working with a lot of spirals. There are a lot of spirals in nature — water down the drain, the galaxies, a Nautilus shell.
“I’m trying to work with these spiral movements, because it’s more human.”
Jaffe was a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre for 22 years. She performed internationally with such companies as The Kirov Ballet, La Scala Ballet in Milan, Vienna State Opera Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet and English National Ballet. The choreographers that she has worked with include Antony Tudor, Agnes de Mille, Twyla Tharp, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
She became dance dean at UNCSA in 2012.
Lochouarn teaches courses in music for film, TV, theater and site-specific installations, and cognitive science in the Liberal Arts Division at UNCSA. His compositions are informed by his studies in cognitive musicology and range from the futuristic cantina music heard in the film “Total Recall” to live experimental multimedia performances, works for large orchestra and music for ballet and the theater.
Public dance concerts at UNCSA give local audiences a chance to see the past, present and future of dance.
Three other dances will be on the “Spring Dance” program.
Marius Petipa’s “Paquita” is a classical ballet that tells the story of a Spanish gypsy girl (Paquita) who falls in love with a young French officer. While the ballet as a whole has not stood the test of time, excerpts from “Paquita” have remained a cornerstone of the classical ballet repertoire.
Eva Draw and Jennet Zerbe, UNCSA School of Dance ballet faculty members, are staging “Paquita’s” Grand Pas, which actually wasn’t part of the original ballet. Petipa added it nearly 40 years after the piece’s premiere. The excerpt is set to music by Ludwig Minkus.
Shen Wei’s “Behind Resonance” is a “quiet and calm piece,” according to stager Kate Jewett, who received her bachelor’s degree from UNCSA in 2001. The piece is set to a score by David Lang.
The classical modern dance work “A Choreographic Offering” by José Limón “challenges our students technically, musically and performatively,” said stager Sean Sullivan, School of Dance associate professor. The work is a tribute to Limón’s mentor Doris Humphrey, a contemporary of Martha Graham.
Sullivan’s version runs about 20 minutes and is set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “A Musical Offering.”
Dance historian Elizabeth Kendall will give a pre-curtain talk at 6:30 p.m. April 19 and 20. The talk, which gives insight into the pieces on the program, is open to ticket holders only.