The Portrait Project (2016)

The Heaviness of Air
Choreography: Helen Simoneau
Music: Mary Kouyoumdjian

Separate Rooms
Choreography: Joshua Beamish
Music: Shawn Jaeger

Choreography: Katarzyna Skarpetowska
Music: Jonathan Howard Katz

The Portrait Project, by Periapsis Music and Dance, is an evening-length set of six works that explores the visual, theatrical, and musical possibilities when dancer and musician are brought together on stage. Each work was choreographed by a different guest choreographer in collaboration with a composer, and each is performed by a different dancer/musician duo from the company. The choreographers involved were Joshua Beamish, Seán Curran, Miro Magloire, Helen Simoneau, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, and Manuel Vignoulle, and the composers were Richard Carrick, Shawn Jaeger, Mary Kouyoumdjian, and artistic director Jonathan Howard Katz.

The Charles and Joan Gross Family Foundation commissioned the music for three of the works:

1) The Heaviness of Air, by choreographer Helen Simoneau and composer Mary Kouyoumdjian. The cellist bears witness to the dancer’s struggles with an afflicted body, inspired by a relative of the composer who had suffered a stroke. An electroacoustic score brings the stretches and pops of muscles and tendons into awareness, while the choreography searches for strength and stability through continual adjustments to shifting physical challenges.

2) Separate Rooms, by choreographer Joshua Beamish and composer Shawn Jaeger. A quiet game of territory, played with music stands and a repetitive, understated musical score, evolves into a darkly comic domestic scene between dancer and bass clarinetist. Key clicks, overblowing, and multiphonics maintain a level of discomfort in the music while the quirky and deceptively simple choreography gradually adds layers of characterization to both performers.

3) Reflection, by choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska and composer Jonathan Howard Katz. Pianist and dancer mirror one another as two aspects of the same vision. After a silent duet around the keyboard, the music begins as a Baroque-style toccata, then a quasi-Viennese waltz, then a meditative passacaglia. The fluid and spontaneous choreography imagines the dancer as co-composer—a visual embodiment of the creative process—and finally brings the two performers full circle at the piano.