By Steve Sucato
Conventional wisdom dictates that bigger is better and that more trumps less. Not so when it comes to watching dance says Chamber Dance Project founder and artistic director Diane Coburn Bruning. “I don’t want people seeing my work from a football field away,” she says on the phone from our nation’s capital. “The closer the audience can be the better.”
Coburn Bruning says the idea to start her now Washington D.C. based project-based troupe came about from her dissatisfaction at audience members choosing to use opera glasses to watch her choreographic works at larger venues. “It was one of those seminal experiences that made me want to draw an artistic line in the sand and start a company where the intimacy of the performance experience was paramount,” says Coburn Bruning.
That intimate audience experience will be in full effect for CDP’s upcoming inaugural Washington season performances at the Kennedy Center’s 513-seat Terrace Theater, June 26-28.
The program, featuring two world premiere ballets, is a coming out party of sorts for Chamber Dance Project which Coburn Bruning began in New York City in 2000 but has been on hiatus since she relocated to Washington in 2010.
Coburn Bruning, a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient along with fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Yale University School of Drama and the Sundance Film Festival, has choreographed for Atlanta Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and Boston Ballet as well as for the Washington National Opera, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and the Shakespeare Theatre Company. She also received a Helen Hayes award nomination for her choreography in the musical Improbable Frequencies for Washington’s Solas Nua.
For CDP’s program at the Kennedy Center entitled Contemporary Ballet with an Edge, the 6-member company featuring principal dancers from Joffrey Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet and Washington Ballet along with CDP’s string quartet of top-flight area musicians, will present four contemporary ballet works (three by Coburn Bruning) and two music only performances.
CDP’s string quartet will be first up with a performance of Russell Peck’s “Don’t Tread On Me Or My String Quartet.” It will be followed by the Washington premiere of Coburn Bruning’s signature pas de deux “Berceuse”. The 6 ½ minute, 20-year-old pas de deux was originally choreographed for two Juilliard graduate students who Coburn Bruning says chose Benjamin Godard’s music of the same name for it much to her dismay.
“When they played the music for me I thought I was just going to choke,” says Coburn Bruning. “It’s beautiful but squarely romantic and sappy; nothing I would have ever chosen myself.”
Romantic as it may be, the music inspired Coburn Bruning to create her most beloved work; one, having seen several times, I feel can stand with any in contemporary ballet. It will be danced by Milwaukee Ballet’s Luz San Miguel and Davit Hovhannisyan.
Next will be the world premiere of Coburn Bruning’s “Time Has Come,” a tribute to the late legendary ballet teacher and coach David Howard.
Set to nine pieces of music by Mozart, Scarlatti and Telemann, the ballet for the full company of dancers and musicians says Coburn Bruning, is abstract and celebrates Howard’s musicality as an artist.
Like choreographer Mark Morris, Coburn Bruning is a vocal advocate for live music whenever possible at dance performances. In order to make that happen she does admit sometimes having to use music in the public domain to save money as was the case for “Time Has Come”. But for Coburn Bruning the commitment to live music, however accomplished, is at the core of CDP.
The latest in her series of ballets she calls “prayers for peace,” the Washington premiere of Coburn Bruning’s “Exit Wounds: and then they come home” set to music by composer Philip Glass follows in the footsteps of like her emotional 2010 ballet “Boots”. The male duet to be danced by Joffrey Ballet’s Fernando Duarte and Washington Ballet’s Luis R. Torres came out of Coburn Bruning’s feeling helplessness in the face of war and her need to respond to it through dance.
After a performance by Claudia Chudacoff of Bach’s “Andante,” from his Sonata No. 2 in A Minor for Solo Violin, the program will conclude with the world premiere of Argentinian choreographer Jorge Amarante’s “Sur” (South), a ballet for the full company commissioned by CDP benefactors Deborah and Bruce Downey and set to music by composers Astor Piazzolla and Peteris Vasks.
Coburn Bruning says she first saw Amarante’s work five years ago when CDP toured to Colombia to perform at the International Ballet Festival in Cali. She says she was fascinated by what she calls his “gutsy” tango-infused movement. A style he is sure to bring to “Sur” which he had just begun creating at the time of my interview with Coburn Bruning.
Chamber Dance Project presents Contemporary Ballet with an Edge, 7:30 p.m., June 26 and 27, 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m., June 28. $40-50. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Terrace Theater, 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566, Tickets and Information: 800-444-1324 or www.kennedy-center.org.