“…a rich and absorbing dance ….. the work of a single vision: congruent, integrated, and authentic.”
– Sima Belmar, The San Francisco Bay Guardian
“… resounding focus and visual purity.”
– Marilyn Tucker, The Contra Costa Times
“…the choreographer’s cool intellectualism gives the fragments a distant, remembered quality, like details salvaged carefully from the morass of the past.”
—Ann Murphy, The Express
Choreography by Nancy Karp
Music by Paul Dresher
Lighting and visual décor by Jack Carpenter
Costume design by Sandra Woodall.
Kalasam, an evening-length work for eight dancers and two musicians, integrates dance, music, slide projection, color, and light. It was inspired by Nancy Karp and Paul Dresher’s long-time association with the performing arts of India.
Nancy Karp and Paul Dresher share an affinity with Indian culture, having both immersed themselves in its dance and musical forms more than twenty years ago. In the 1970’s each artist independently worked under great performing artists from India, and immersed themselves in learning what for them were new forms, structures and approaches in composition. Dresher studied with Hindustani sitar virtuoso Nikhil Banerjee, while Karp studied Carnatic music and Bharata Natyam from T. Viswanathan and T. Balasaraswati, both of whom were at the Center for World Music in California. By 1980, each had found it essential to move beyond these formative experiences and to discover their own artistic vocabularies. In this process, both avoided any direct reference to the surface or techniques of the arts of India, and over the past two decades each has developed a body of work not identifiably related to these years of study. In recent years, both Dresher and Karp felt a need to return to India and to look again at the deep traditions that have influenced their artistic processes.
Kalasam, is named after the punctuating pure dance patterns of Kathakali dance from the state of Kerala in South India. However, the choreographic and music material for Kalasam is neither derived from nor directly referential to the music and dance of India. The work is in three sections: Cochin, Jaisalmer, and Chennai (Madras) – impressionistic snapshots of three very different Indian cities. Kalasam is a one-hour work and is performed without an intermission. The creation of Kalasam was made possible through the support of the Rockefeller Foundation MAP Fund and the San Francisco Arts Commission.
Kalasam is an evening-length work that explores the complex culture, terrain, and language of India. Through the generosity of a Fulbright Fellowship, I was given the opportunity to spend half a year in South India. I lived in Trichur, an hour’s train ride from the harbor town of Cochin in the state of Kerala. Visiting Cochin often, I was drawn to the mesmerizing visual canon of the Chinese Fishing Nets over the harbor. The vocabulary for Cochin, the first section of the work, has been distilled from the quality of the movement of these voluminous cantilevered nets counter balanced at the water’s edge. The second section, Jaisalmer has been choreographed for a quartet of dancers. The vast space surrounding this Rajastani town and its intricate, spiky buildings silhouetted against the desert inspired the movement for this section. The third and last section entitled Chennai is danced by the full company, and contains several core phrases of layered rhythmic intensity and is contrasted by solo and group segments of tranquil stillness. Chennai is a city of crowded streets, lush parks, and vestiges of colonial empire. It is also the center for Carnatic music.I have always considered my choreographic style to be formed by the convergence of three distinct aesthetic traditions: the Bauhaus in Germany, Russian Constructivism of the 20’s, and the classical dance and music traditions of India. What these influences have in common is a concern for the unity of form and content. I work with small units of movement vocabulary, exhausting their potential through combination and variation; the dances are abstract explorations of pure movement, spatial design, and complex rhythmic patterning.Nancy Karp
The music was composed at three distinct times between May of 1999 and November of 2000. I’ve taken a different approach to the musical construction of each of the three sections. However, all three sections were composed working closely with Nancy, both in the details of the sequence and progression of the specific musical ideas. Throughout the work, Nancy and I shared the goal of exploring aspects of our mutual experience with the performing arts of India.The music for Cochin is primarily a recorded score with live music added at a later time. The score mixes ambient/environmental recordings made by Nancy or myself in India with purely musical material. Much of this musical material, which is heard after significant editing, sound processing and re-composition, is derived from recordings of improvisational sessions done with multi-woodwind performer/composer Ned Rothenberg between 1996 and 1998. Ned and I are involved in a long-term collaborative composition and performance project that shares some of the same focus on world music as a source for ideas and inspiration. While the shape and development of the score is “my” work, many of the raw ideas and material have been created collaboratively.Jaisalmer, composed in May and July of 2001, is entirely (with the exception of a synthesizer sound in one section) composed of sounds derived from a musical instrument I call a Quadrachord. Invented in collaboration with instrument designer Daniel Schmidt, this instrument has 4 steel strings, each 14 feet long. It has a bridge at either end of the instrument with electric bass pickups associated with each bridge. Because of the length of the strings and the low fundamental pitches of the open strings, the instrument is remarkably effective at playing the overtones of the harmonic series. This offers the resource of experimenting with non-equal tempered tunings. The instrument can be played with a large variety of techniques including bowing, plucking, hammering with mallets and with preparations like a prepared piano. It is part of a large-scale music theater work called SoundStage that I am creating for the ensemble Zeitgeist and the Walker Art Center. I have become so fascinated with this instrument that I am starting to use it as one of my regular instruments. The score was originally created as a tape work but with the idea that certain key parts are performed live. In this case, the sounds we are using are samples of the Quadrachord.Chennai, the final section, combines elements from the first two sections, using materials generated from further collaboration with Ned Rothenberg, the sounds of the Quadrachord and recordings from India. In Chennai, live performance is integral to the shape and realization of this section. The score contains recorded material that mixes through-composed and improvised parts developed in rehearsal with percussionist Joel Davel.Paul Dresher
Composer Paul Dresher is known worldwide for his ability to integrate diverse musical influences and media into his own unique, personal style. He is one of the foremost internationally active composers of his generation. Dresher has received commissions from the Library of Congress, the Spoleto Festival USA, the Kronos Quartet, and the San Francisco Symphony, among others. He received one of his first commissions for dance from Nancy Karp + Dancers in 1981 for the dance Passing By.