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Stravinsky lives through UA dance and music

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Courtesy Ed Flores | The Daily Wildcat

UA Dance Ensemble members Allyson March and Maxwell Foster perform in Christopher Wheeldon’s "The American." The piece will performed alongside "Les Noces."

Igor Stravinsky is widely known as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, and one of his revolutionary ballets is coming to Tucson to honor the 100 year anniversary of its creation. The UA School of Dance and Fred Fox School of Music are collaborating to perform “Les Noces,” a story of marriage told through dance and music. 

“Les Noces” is a cantata, which is a piece of music written for vocals and instrumental accompaniment that contains a narrative. The work, which translates to “The Wedding,” tells the story of two lovers getting married and each leaving their families to start something new and beautiful. 

While Stravinsky originally wrote the piece as a ballet, it is rare for a performance to include dancers. While an orchestral performance of the piece can stand on its own, the work was meant to be listened to and watched. It’s only appropriate to perform the ballet to honor the anniversary of such an iconic piece.

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More than 50 music and 26 dance students are working with three professors to put on this unique ballet.  The project has been in the works for more than two years now, according to Bruce Chamberlain, the associate director of the School of Music and the conductor of “Les Noces.”

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Tucson to see a Stravinsky ballet danced with live music,” said Chamberlain. “Stravinsky wrote a series of four ballets that have changed our approach to music and music-making in a very significant way,  and ‘Les Noces’ is the most unusual of all four of those.”

Arnold Newman (CC BY 2.0)

Igor Stravinsky in New York City in 1946. The UA School of Dance and Fred Fox School of Music are collaborating to perform his ballet, “Les Noces," starting Feb. 15.

Stravinsky is known for pushing the envelope with his music and challenging the norm with his compositions, but the strangeness of “Les Noces” can be seen even before the first note. The music is solely performed by a choral group, pianos and percussion instruments, without a stringed, woodwind or brass instrument in sight.

Chamberlain said he has always been fascinated with Stravinsky’s work, and when he first came to the UA he was determined to collaborate with the School of Dance to bring one of Stravinksky’s compositions to life.

“When I realized we have a world-class school of dance on our campus, I went to work trying to find the opportunity-that we could perform this ballet cantata together,” he said.

Elizabeth George-Fesch and Tamara Dyke-Compton, associate professors in the School of Dance, heard about Chamberlain’s mission and wanted to take part, so the two became co-choreographers for the performance.

While both choreographers are versed in various styles of dance, Dyke-Compton specializes in modern and jazz, while George-Fesch focuses on ballet. When approaching “Les Noces,” they wanted to combine their specialties and take inspiration from traditional performances of the piece to craft something new that honored the original.

Courtesy Ed Flores

UA Dance Ensemble members Allyson March and Maxwell Foster perform in Christopher Wheeldon’s "The American." The piece will performed alongside "Les Noces."

“We talked a lot about concepts and themes we wanted to explore and we started to make some phrases together with that in mind,” said Dyke-Compton. “We made up little phrases on our own as well but we manipulated each other’s, so in the middle of a section Liz might have started choreographing it and then I finished it.”

The collaboration between George-Fesch and Dyke-Compton give the ballet’s choreography a seamless flow and exemplify the different styles present at the School of Dance. 

The UA’s program focuses on ballet, modern and jazz styles, all three of which Dyke-Compton believes can be seen in this performance.

“’Les Noces’ is more of a ballet but it does have touches of contemporary movement in it,” Dyke-Compton said. “I think it captures what the School of Dance has to offer.” 

“Les Noces” will be performed in the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre from Feb. 15 to 18 each night beginning at 7:30 p.m. with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. 

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Tickets can be purchased from the College of Fine Arts box office either online, over the phone or in person. Those interested in attending are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance since the event is so unique and seats are likely to sell quickly.

“’Les Noces’ is a very special event,” Chamberlain said. “If you have any interest at all, this is the chance to get to it.”


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