As soon as Mathew Janczewski heard the string quartet Ethel – virtuosic, steely, quirky and razor-fine versions of tunes from Finnish harmonium musician Timo Alakotila to our own percussive composer Mary Ellen Childs – he began making dances to the string quartet’s work. Dances like the 2004 “Hold On,” for eight dancers furiously slashing through space with ritualistic, sometimes happy fury, set to Ethel’s rendition of a sinister-sounding, hard-driving work for strings by Phil Kline. (Go here to listen to a snippet.)
“So, I thought, why not just bring Ethel here,” explained Janczewski, artistic director and choreographer for Arena Dances. This weekend, Arena reprises “Hold On” with live music by Ethel: Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello) and Mary Rowell (violin). The quartet, in fact, plays live, on stage, for the entire concert – including interludes between dances that will give Stephen Schroeder (“because he’s in every piece!” Janczewski said) time to change costume.
About Ethel, Janczewski explained, “There are just so many layers to the music that I love playing with choreographically. The music can be intense, and big and emotional, which allows be to juxtapose stillness with ferocious movements.” Janczewski’s work is beloved by Twin Cities audiences for such juxtapositions – austere beauty, lush abstraction, accessible intelligence, emotional dexterity – which can send you reeling. (I mean that in a good way).
The mild-mannered choreographer is quick to disclose that he’s not a combative, confrontational person, but that he works out conflict in his dances. It is there, in the choreography, that he explores tension, resolution, desire, challenge and resistance – articulating with an architecture of kinetic energy that which so often remains inarticulate. As in two new duets on this weekend’s program.
In “Once,” for Schroeder and Stephanie Laager, Janczewski explored the dancers’ personal and professional relationship, and worked on moving Laager past her prettiness into more depth and nuance. “She’s let some barriers down in the process of making this work,” he said.
The choreographer made “Everything, Everything” for long-time dancer and educator Erin Thompson and dancer Amy Behm-Thomson. Set to music by Pamela Z, which he says Ethel will play over a Broadway recording with a nostalgic feel, the “yummy” duet focuses on the “graciousness of the two of them,” as they “share their gifts with each other.”
Also on the program is a reprise of “Sprial Shift,” with Ethel performing music by Evan Ziporyn, and a new quartet “Run With Me,” set to music by Twin Cities composer Michael Croswell and performed by Ethel. The piece, danced by Schroeder, Eddie Oroyan, Sarah Baumert and Julie McBride, “was completely magical to make,” despite its concept, Janczewski explained: “tantrums, red high-heels, and getting out of a bad situation while still wanting it.”
What: “Dancin’ With Ethel”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 5 & 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 & 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tickets: online for $29, pay-as-able Sat. at 5 p.m.
Also this weekend:
What: James Sewell Ballet fall concert, with two premieres by Sewell: “Dancing People: Solo Portraits of Six Dancers,” created for the company performers, and “Chopin Studies,” set to the composer’s work.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul