In concert dance, what an audience sees depends a lot on what they hear. Of course, the actual reality of what is visible on stage doesn’t change because of the score, but objective reality has very little to do with great art, and even less with how we experience it. The personal reality that an audience experiences changes immensely depending on the sound that is part of the dance they see.
Chicago Dance Crash’s production of Lil Pine Nut is an unusually successful adventure in concert dance; the choreography, the dancers, the costumes and the lights all move together, from one enchantment to the next. But the entire trajectory is constructed on top of Jessica Deahr’s immensely imaginative ideas about music, sound and story telling.
Score design for concert dance varies widely in what it includes and what it requires. Aside from completely original compositions for choreography, almost all modern productions are built from selections of music, sometimes sound effects or atmospheric sounds, and more rarely, spoken word. It can require complex transitions to maintain momentum from one track to the next, and because of the variety of styles that choreography is open to using, simply getting the volume to be consistent across an entire score can be difficult.
For Lil Pine Nut, Deahr used a breathtaking variety of musical styles — hip-hop, hard rock, electronica, classical, and an old french ballad from the sixties. But in order to tell the story she had built for Lil Pine Nut, she also brought in four of the Chicago Dance Crash performers to add important vocal recordings. Here are four photos of Monternez Rezell, Elijah Motley, Porscha Spells, and Kristi Licera along with Jessica Deahr in very different roles from the ones you see on stage.
Jessica Deahr and Elijah Motley Recording Narration for Chicago Dance Crash’s Lil Pine Nut
Jessica Deahr’s ability to craft full evening stories goes way beyond her immense talents as a choreographer. She searches for stories she can tell, and when she finds them, what she does with them has as much to do with the art of sculpture as it does with the arts of dance. She looks for character, she looks for music, she looks for plot and trajectory, and she starts fashioning all of it into one continuous audience experience until nobody can tell that it didn’t always go together.
But this entire process depended on the ability of the dancers she trusts to go far beyond performing a movement design. In Lil Pine Nut, Elijah Motley plays the title role, Deahr’s representation of Pinocchio, and he brought to the studio, as he brings to the stage, an ability to craft a completely believable character. In the studio, Motley and Deahr share an easy-going but complete focus, working to create exactly enough character and story-telling to move the adventure further.
Monternez Rezell and Jessica Deahr at Heart and Soul Studio for Chicago Dance Crash’s Lil Pine Nut
Monternez Rezell is used to being on the mic. An accomplished MC and producer, he knows his way around a studio. Working with Deahr, he crafted the narration by the Cricket (danced in Lil Pine Nut by Logan Paschall) that weaves together the deeper ideas that Crash explores in the story. On stage, he dances the role of Geppetto, and imagines a completely different character, but does so just as effectively.
Deahr took excerpts from the original novel and gave them voice in the production to complete the story told by movement and music. There are multiple challenges in integrating spoken word into a score design — the perceived volume of spoken narration can be very difficult to match with music, and more so when the narration sometimes happens alone and sometimes with the music. The legibility of the actual words is of course paramount, but so is the confidence and clarity of the performance by the voice over artist. Rezell, like Motley, Spells and Licera, brought a careful balance of professional delivery and natural expression to making it all come together.
Porscha Spells Recording for Chicago Dance Crash’s Lil Pine Nut
The first two recording sessions for Lil Pine Nut were early in the choreographic process, so Porscha Spells, like Motley and Rezell, was both interpreting and creating her character for Lil Pine Nut. Spells plays Fox, and in her vocal recording, she mirrored and enhanced the mischievous character who is so important in developing the story of Lil Pine Nut. Having been in the studio with Crash, it was fascinating to then see these performers in full costume and motion. In the studio, Deahr and the performers would make subtle changes of rhythm and text as they found the right take, and on stage, those decisions became another kind of lighting to illuminate the movement.
Kristi Licera and Elijah Motley in Chicago Dance Crash’s Lil Pine Nut
Oh for the picture not taken. Working on the score design for a production as complex as Lil Pine Nut can be a long process; from the first session with Deahr, Motley, Rezell and Spells to the last on the project covered six months. Because Deahr does much of her own editing, each time she came to Heart and Soul she brought a different set of edits, sometimes additional edits to sections we had already constructed together. This was necessary both because of the always challenging question of budget for score design, but also so that she could keep the score in time with the choreography as it was created. Along the way, I also worked with one of the other choreographers involved in the work, KC Bevis, and by the time my Jessica came back with Kristi Licera (who plays the Turquoise Lady) and Monte, it was deep in the process. Deep and way past complicated, so there just wasn’t time to pull the camera out for the session.
Too bad, because Rezell and Licera’s interaction in the story is important and enchanting, including a priceless moment where the Turquoise Lady won’t let the Cricket finish a sentence. In the studio as on stage, Licera has to cover the Cricket’s mouth mid-sentence. Oh for the picture not taken.
Elijah Motley and Porscha Spells (top) and Monternez Rezell and Elijah Motley in Performance
Just to complete the story, here are two extra photos, which can only begin to convey the immense versatility — and creative collaboration — required from the performers, choreographers and designers in a production as rich as Lil Pine Nut. Perhaps even more remarkable than the complexity and success of the performances was the fearlessness that went into the process. Bringing the dancers into the studio to do the narration is probably not something you should try at home. But with these performers, and with Jessica Deahr’s calm and steady direction, it was like everybody does this all the time. Because they know they’ll make it work.
Chicago Dance Crash presents Lil Pine Nut at Chicago’s Ruth Page Center for the Arts (1016 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60610) on Friday, August 23rd and Saturday August 24th at 8pm, Sunday, August 25th at 3pm, Friday, August 30th at 8pm and Saturday, August 31st at 8pm. Tickets are available online from BrownPaperTickets.com.
The cast for Lil Pine Nut includes: Elijah Motley as Pinocchio, Monternez Rezell as Geppetto, introducing Logan Paschall to Chicago as the Cricket, Kristi Licera as the Turquoise Lady, Porscha Spells as the Fox with Logan Howell as Side Cat in addition to KC Bevis, Kelsey Reiter, Jasper Sanchez and introducing Diamond Burdine to Chicago.
The Lil Pine Nut Artistic Team includes: Choreographers Jessica Deahr & KC Bevis with additional choreography by Jim Morrow and Dionna PridGeon. Costumes by Jeffrey Hancock, original lighting design by Erik S. Barry, and score design by Jessica Deahr, KC Bevis and Johnny Nevin.