Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tri-C Presents: Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR): Symphony for the Dance Floor

I don't think I've ever actually attended a Tri-C Presents event before...and I'm not entirely sure how I wound up on their mailing lists... but when I saw the mailing for Daniel Bernard Roumain's, also known as DBR, Symphony for the Dance Floor, I was instantly intrigued.

When I first looked at the dates I thought it was last weekend -- which was already booked solid by the time I saw the event -- but Rachel pointed out that it was actually this weekend, and with the Orchestra in Europe my Saturday evening was thankfully open -- and we took the opportunity to visit Tri-C's Metro Campus.

Though sparsely attended Mr. Roumain gave a dazzling performance that tickled every sense except smell. Blending classical (Mr. Roumain plays a 5-stringed violin) hip hop (Lord Jamar serves as both MC and DJ)and who knows how many other traditions of music, dance, and verbal and visual storytelling traditions. Via the program note, DBR relates the inspiration for the work came from the tragedy of the Haitian earthquake: "As a composer, my initial thought was to create some large, solemn requiem for Haiti. But as a Haitian-composer, I realized that would be wrong. What was needed was apiece that was vibrant, moving and alive!"

The staging was unique and the first sign that we were in for something different: The majority of the audience was seated on stage, facing each other, with a narrow "runway" of sorts covered in Marley separating the two halves.

The end result certainly all of those. Though some symphonic techniques were clearly recognizable -- like the fast-slow-scherzo-fast structure of the movements, others were completely foreign: The work begins with the DJ scratching before DBR begins playing. When DBR takes the stage, he isn't anchored to one spot. But this isn't the typical "strolling violinist": While he's playing with vigor to successfully challenge any soloist, he's also contorting into unusual positions: Playing with the scroll of the violin touching the floor; having a dancer hang off his elbow or his waist...or stand on his back...while he is playing and not missing a note.

The bass of the notes (and the beat) makes their way up into your body via the stage floor. The piece is roughly equal parts Mr. Roumain alone on stage (but never alone musically -- a variety of pre-recorded and sampled music keeps him able company) dance, and choir: A brief video clip and photos of Haitians round out the visual portion of a show that stops just shy of sensory overload. A few notes of Beethoven make their appearance (with Lord Jamar filling a role as conductor)

The audience is fully engaged as well: There was enough rhythmic clapping that at the end of the performance my hands were a bit sore; the involuntary toe tapping persisted throughout: Near the climatic conclusion ended with much of the audience flooding the strange and creating a scene indistinguishable from a night club center stage, and as impressively, Mr. Roumain playing a few notes on his violin using his tongue.

The final result was a work that was very much alive and both explored and celebrated the worlds of music, dance, hip hop, perception, video, and photography. Not to mention some very catchy sounds -- Though I rarely purchase music from venues other than iTunes, I had no hesitation to pick up the CD on my way out -- and based on what I heard on the ride home, it is an authentic, if somewhat flat, representation of the music of the show. But you really need to see, hear, and feel it to get the full effect.


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