Sometimes dance is music and music is dance – Cellist, Gabriel Cabezas and BalletX dancer, Chloe Felesina

chloefelesina- photo Alexander Iziliaev gabe-cabezas-web

by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal
Photo credit for Chloe Felesina: Alexander Iziliaev

Both dance and classical music fans filled the downstairs multi-level World Café on Super Bowl Sunday, no less, for the potent pairing of Cellist, Gabriel Cabezas and BalletX dancer, Chloe Felesina.

The concert, dubbed a musical pas de deux, is part of the LiveConnections series at the Café, which brings contemporary classical music to new venues and audiences. The performance was also simulcast online at LiveConnections.org. Their performance proved an adventurous and frequently electric up close and personal collaboration.

Cabezas, a graduate of the Curtis Institute, has performed as a soloist with many orchestras including New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Felesina trained with San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and has displayed impressive versatility in her roles at BalletX.

Musicians and dancers onstage in close proximity always can be a chance for a certain magic.  It is the essence of flamenco, for instance, with dancers facing off with musicians, together fueling a spontaneous energy that can be absent in dance with pre-recorded music or even when the orchestra is in the pit.

Still, with one dancer and one musician there are risks, it can be tricky to maintain a theatrical arc, for one, with both soloists pretty much under a microscope. Not to mention soloists avoiding a retreat to their own, in this case, virtuosic zone. It was apparent from the start that these issues were not a problem for Cabezas and Felesina

Cabezas’ opened with the ariatic cello voicing of Osvaldo Golijov’s ‘Omaramor‘ (as he does in his opera Anadimar) with qualities of dissonant and bending string lines that bloom into tangos and other warmer voicings. Meanwhile, when Felesina enters in the middle of this piece, she establishes a very music reflective physical vocabulary, and that it is also a jumping off point. She gives an authoritative presence of choreographic structure and in the moment exploration.

Later, this more spontaneous technique comes to full bloom in Benjamin Britten’s Cello Suite No. 3. Felesina takes a seat in front of a music stand to refer to each of the nine music form sections (Lento, Andante, Presto, etc) and opens a fluid vocabulary of directly animating the effects from the music,   the more comic sounds. Felesina’s dance comedy in this section as inventive as a Warner Brothers cartoon- A bilious bass note is physically rendered by Felesina as if she is going to loose cookies; a fluttery note run is mirrored by her hand fluttering off of the music sheet. A jumpy, fragmented cello riff has her flinging herself to the floor, moving on her knees and floating up to expressive arched backed body-sculpting. She hovers around Cabezas, dangling over the bridge of his cello, a puzzled muse.

After a break, Curtis composition student Alyssa Weinberg introduced her piece Prayer for solo cello, a commissioned by the One Book, One Philadelphia series. The piece reflects the themes in the novel The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers, about returning war vets and the challenges they face with PTSD. Musically, this is a complex and mature work, cinematic in the best sense. Weinberg’s dissonant and scarred cello is full of anguish, absurdity and pathos, without being sentimental.

Felesina‘s choreography is equally evocative to the theme without exploiting it. She is prone on the stage in a flowy spring floral dress that moves in strategic ways and the Weinberg‘s anguished tones have her writhing or moving in stress positions. She rises, on pointe, and dances off-balance piques and turns sequences, and phrases that are increasingly precarious that express the turmoil and suggest controlled distress. Cabezas lurches toward an even darker passage and Felesina removes her shoes, dances in slippers, alternately more free form laced with balletic extensions and petit jumps.

Cabezas segues into the finale of J.S.Bach’s Suite no. 1 just bathing the room and Cabezas sustaining unfussy and passionate technique at the end of the program. Bach orderly musical universe nonetheless lends itself to contemporary dance styles and Felesina mixes free dance, ala Duncan that luminously expresses her natural sense of balletic line. This duo was more than technically dynamic.

Kudos to the World Café Live staff for being virtually stealth and as quiet as humanly possible serving brunches during the performance. They deserved both a round of applause and fat tips.

Gabriel Cabezas, cello
Chloe Felesina, dance
World Café, Philadelphia
February 2, 2014

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