A famous quote about music criticism — nobody's sure who said it first — goes that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. The idea being that the written word is powerless to convey the joy and complexity songs contain.
Next month, though, dancing about architecture is exactly what several performers will be doing in Scottsdale at Taliesin West, the winter home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that later became the renowned architect's foundation headquarters. Ten choreographers who've found inspiration in Wright's work have been invited by Tempe-based company CONDER/dance to take to a tiny, 4-by-4-foot stage and present as part of Ten Tiny Dances on Saturday, April 3.
Choreographer Carley Conder, who founded the contemporary dance company in 2003, has partnered with Taliesin West in recent years, drawing inspiration for original works that reflect the ideas manifested during Wright's seven-decade career. She says she’s long been fascinated by his life and times.
“He was such a great example and model of innovation,” she says. “The more I do these collaborations, the more the meaning and purpose changes over time.” She’s one of 10 choreographers whose work is featured in Ten Tiny Dances, where every piece lasts just three to five minutes.
Conder invited nine Arizona-based choreographers to create works as well. One drew inspiration from ASU Gammage, which features the design Wright originally intended as a Baghdad opera house. Another explored the influence of Japanese prints on Wright’s work, drawing from the architect's own writings about the Japanese aesthetic. "I wanted to have a good representation of different voices in the community," Conder says.
Several of the choreographers, including Liliana Gomez and Nicole L Olson, are well-known to local dance audiences who’ve seen their work in settings ranging from Phoenix Art Museum to the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area. Some, including Shelly Hawkins and Keith A. Thompson, have been part of Breaking Ground, an annual dance and film festival Conder launched in 2007.
A few choreographers will perform their own works, but most feature other dancers. Four dancers will share the tiny stage for a piece created by Conder, which imagines Wright’s alter ego. “I thought it would be interesting to think about him looking back in nostalgia, traveling back into self-reflection,” she explains.
There’s historical precedent for pairing dance with Wright’s architecture, according to Alexandra Freyermuth, manager of cultural programs for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
“Dance was a crucial part of what it meant to be at Taliesin West when Frank Lloyd Wright was there,” she explains. “His wife and daughter were dancers; his apprentices built during the week and danced on the weekends.”
Freyermuth sees similarities between Conder’s approach and Wright’s own philosophy. “Her work is unique and experimental,” says Freyermuth. “For Wright, art was experimentation and experimentation was art.”
Conder says she’s struck by the myriad ways the Ten Tiny Dances choreographers have interpreted the famed architect’s ideas and designs — and their different approaches to using the small stage.
“The range of how they transformed and transcended the stage is really amazing.”
Ten Tiny Dances will be performed live at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Taliesin West on Saturday, April 3. Tickets are $35. (Tickets for a 5 p.m. tour plus the 6 p.m. show are $65.)
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