When I first saw Glen Velez perform at Philadelphia's 1987 New Music America Festival, I knew I was seeing and hearing a drummer who made his own beat. Clearly, he inhabited his music and his music inhabited him. No one else sounds quite like him. In those years, Velez was just venturing out as a soloist, having played with Steve Reich and Paul Winter throughout the past three decades. He continues to play and collaborate with many of the world's great musicians, whether in world or new music, and especially enjoys performing a piece John Cage wrote for him in 1989.
The Grammy Award winner also received a 1999 Drummies Award for "Best World Beat Percussionist" by DRUM! magazine. His music can be heard on hundreds of major albums as well as on 10 of his own CDs and is frequently played on shows such as National Public Radio's All Things Considered and John Schaefer's New Sounds (which, unfortunately, is not carried on our local NPR station, making other music-loving publics better informed than we are).
Having also written music for dance, his latest collaboration with the New York-based modern dance duo Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer is nothing new. Miriam Seidel of the Philadelphia Inquirer called them "Masters of the Duet." All three are in residency this week at ASU West -- Velez to carry the music for the Phoenix première of Bridgman/Packer's Carried Away. At a preview of the piece during a New York showcase last week, Myrna Packer talked about the Phoenix program.
Bridgman/Packer with Glen Velez will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, January 27, at the University Center Building, La Sala, ASU West, 4701 West Thunderbird. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students. Call 602-543-ARTS (2787) or 602-543-6064. (Glen Velez's lecture and demonstration are from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, January 26, at Kiva Hall, located in the Sands Building at ASU West.)
Arizona Contemporary Dance Festival 7:30 p.m. Sunday, January 28, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street in Scottsdale. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, $10 each for groups of 10 or more, $7.50 for those age 12 and under. Call 480-994-2787 or go online at www.tickets.com, or call Desert Dance Theatre at 480-962-4584.
"Two tracks that Glen wrote for us for Carried Away are on a new CD called Breathing Rhythms," Packer says.
Their softness and dynamically changing tempos are a strong match for the choreography that plays with light and shadow. Dancing behind a large red silk screen, she and her partner's shadows might be giants, making the dance seem larger than life. But when their limbs, or even their whole bodies, appear from behind the screen, "we're dwarfed," Packer points out.
"We're no longer two-dimensional but three-dimensional -- and only too human."
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Bridgman/Packer may be best remembered in the Valley for their 1998 performance of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) at Gammage Auditorium. They will perform a section of the hilariously talky piece, choreographed in collaboration with Ann Carlson, Mark Dendy, Dan Hurlin, Bill T. Jones, Marta Renzi and Vicky Shick. Although thoroughly elegant in its movement, it is also surreal and tartly ominous, as is much of their work.
Bridgman/Packer's 10-year-old son, Davy Bridgman-Packer, who holds a black belt in karate, will join them onstage for their 1998 martial-arts-inspired piece KATA, also set to music by Velez.
Before their Saturday night performance, Velez gives a lecture-demonstration on Friday, January 26, for the benefit of area percussionists and music aficionados. He takes both Western percussion and frame drum performance styles from around the world to form his own musical style. Most North Americans would consider his instruments exotic. They include the Egyptian riq (a small, intricately inlaid tambourine), the Irish bodhrán (a large single-headed drum) and the North African tar (often seen in the hands of desert nomads). As a master teacher, Velez conducts workshops worldwide and developed his own teaching method called Handance, incorporating voice and body movement into the process of learning to play the frame drum. He will demonstrate his own signature series of frame drums he designed for the REMO Drum company.
Once you've enjoyed all this imported entertainment, check out the homegrown kind. Companies from across the state perform Sunday night at Scottsdale Center for the Arts. The seventh annual Arizona Contemporary Dance Festival will be hosted there by Desert Dance Theatre. A Ludwig Dance Theatre, Canyon Movement Company, Desert Dance Theatre, DeVere Dance Company, Grounding Point Dance Company, Movement Source, Opendance, and Semaphor DanceWorks will perform signature or new works.