Composer Graham Reynolds to provide music for WFU Creative Dance Project
Groundskeepers often work quickly and then move on. They beautify and maintain spaces, wielding blowers, rakes, dump trucks, chainsaws, mowers, brooms, power-washers, wood chippers and more so that communities can enjoy and use fields, paths, buildings, wooded areas and walkways. But generally, the groundskeepers and landscapers are not there to be the center of attention. “From The Ground Up” a collaborative site-specific dance performance involving Texas-based Forklift Danceworks and grounds workers at Wake Forest University will change that when the event unfolds with three performances this week on the school’s Winston-Salem campus. The performances will take place Oct. 3-5 at 7 p.m. in Wake Forest University’s Hearn Plaza.
Choreographer and Forklift Artistic Director Allison Orr and Associate Artistic Director Krissie Marty have been working with employees from the Landscaping, Custodial, Waste Reduction, Maintenance and Utility departments to tell their stories through movement, and to celebrate the grace, skill and efficiency of these individuals and their work. Sixty-five members of those teams will perform the dance, which will also involve some of their equipment. Wake Forest students are also involved in the production. Expect mowers and blowers and synchronized machinery on the quad. If Busby Berkeley had ever had a summer job trimming shrubs, or if Richard Wagner’s concept of “gesamtkunstwerk” (a complete and total work of art) had been conceived while operating a weedeater, they might have come up with something along these lines.
Forklift Danceworks focuses on building connections with communities and putting the spotlight on the particular types of physical movement that many workers enact almost as an afterthought in the course of their days. They also make a point of creating dances with people that don’t necessarily consider themselves to be dancers. Last year, the organization collaborated with food service workers at Williams College in Massachusetts.
Also on-hand for the event will be composer Graham Reynolds, a frequent musical collaborator with Forklift Danceworks. Reynolds has worked with the group for numerous projects. He’ll be performing a score that will allow for some improvisation with a group of area musicians, members of the Wake Forest gamelan ensemble and others.
I spoke with Reynolds about his music earlier this week by phone from his home in Austin, Texas. As with the members of the facilities and maintenance workers, Reynolds is used to working in a fashion that partly intended to be in the background or not to occupy the center of people’s attention. Much of Reynolds’ writing has been in the area of film scoring. He’s worked on many projects by the award-winning Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater. Reynolds scored Linklater’s films A Scanner Darkly, Bernie, Before Midnight, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, among others.
Reynolds has written classically oriented pieces, but his musical roots are equally in the world of jazz improvisation.
The score for “From the Ground Up” allows Reynolds to pull from his different areas of expertise.
“We treat it a little bit like a jazz chart,” he said. “There are themes composed, and there are beats and a basic structure. Everybody in the band is an improviser.”
The scope of the production is immense with dozens and dozens of performers, machinery, the vastness of the university quad and the uncertainty of the open-air element.
“The number of moving pieces involved is pretty amazing,” Reynolds said.
The improvisational aspect allows the musicians to keep pace with and respond to the fluid nature of the choreography, where not every bit of movement will be synchronized or entirely pre-determined.
“It’s not like it’s a ballet, where they know how many steps they’re going to take,” Reynolds said.
There are connections to be made between the worlds of film scoring and music for dance.
“It’s time-based art, there’s a structure and some sort of story, along those lines, and you’re supporting that structure,” Reynolds said. “In film, you don’t have music the whole time, whereas in dance, almost always once the show starts there’s music, and it doesn’t stop until the show’s over. And the music is more directly connected to the movement.”
One could say that Reynolds’ varied career shows the imprint of Duke Ellington, a composer and American musical titan whom Reynolds has a deep reverence for. Reynolds paid tribute to Ellington in a 2011 record of portraits, re-imagined and re-arranged pieces by Duke. It ranged from chamber pieces to DJ-helmed remixes. Ellington, of course, got his start making hot dance music, moved into more ambitious classically-leaning suites and long-form pieces, did some film scoring and, toward the end of his life, worked with choreographers like Alvin Ailey.
“I think of Ellington as a model of what I try to do,” Reynolds said. “He had a band of readers and improvisers. He kept evolving over time. He embraced the voices of other contributors. And I love bringing people in that can do things that I can’t. Ellington was also someone with a massive output. He was composing all the time, performing all the time.”
In that same mode, Reynolds said he likes to stay busy, taking his interests and channeling them into his writing. His recent and upcoming projects involve cross-border collaborations with Mexican and Texan DJs, composers and performers; a record that showcases music inspired by science, and another project that features a 14-person ensemble playing a country and western suite.
“If I’m interested in something, I try to turn it into work,” Reynolds said.
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.