This weekend, Philadelphia’s BalletX dance company will premiere a dance set to the music of Germantown musician, singer-songwriter Chris Kasper. Kasper and his four-piece band will perform live on stage with the dancers.
“I feel a nice weight off my shoulders, not all eyes are looking at me,” said Kasper before rehearsal this week. “It’s great. It lets me let loose a little more. You get nervous. The power of a couple hundred eyes looking at you is pretty intense.”
Kasper will perform seven songs from his latest release, “Bagabones” (2013), a CD of songs he wrote, arranged, and produced. A few months ago it appeared on a list prepared by BalletX and presented to choreographer Adam Hougland. BalletX commissioned Hougland to create a new work for its summer series, and the American choreographer based in Bristol, England, wanted to work with a local musician.
“I was drawn to Chris’ work,” said Hougland. “We spoke on the phone, and he was cool and sweet. I got a good feeling.”
The songs were not written for dance, and Kasper is playing them live just as they are on the record. Likewise, Hougland has not choreographed a dance-video routine. Hougland and the dancers (often dancing en pointe) come from ballet, not Beyonce. Musician and choreographer found each other in the quieter moments of the song.
“The music has so much space for that flow. It’s not a wall of sound coming at you, with no space to think. This music has a lot of space in it,” said Kasper. “Regardless of what I’m saying lyrically, the essence of this music is the space in it. That’s where dancers can really move in their way. They don’t have to interpret the lyrics.”
“He has a romantic sensibility, and I’m a romantic at heart,” said Hougland. He arrived in Philadelphia about a month ago with the “Bagabones” CD, and little else. The dance came out of a collaborative process with the BalletX dancers, who sometimes came up with their own movements.
“I’m really a music-driven choreographer. It’s about listening to it and getting it in my bones,” said Hougland. “I don’t prepare anything before I work with the dancers.”
The dance, “When We’re Alone,” is made up of seven songs on the 10-song CD. The dance is an abridged version of the overall listening experience, Kasper said, one that hits all the emotional points.
“It’s not overly happy or excited ever. There’s a lot of breath and air. I wanted everything to sound beautiful,” said Kasper. “It starts beautiful, and then it a little gets odd – ‘Raven and the Rose’ I feel has odd notes. Then you get into some funky stuff. Then it gets dark. Then it gets quiet. Then it ends big — it ends with a big bloom.”
“When We’re Alone” is one of a trio of dances on the program this weekend. The others are also by Hougland – previous BalletX premieres — set to recorded music. One is a dark, brooding piece, the other a lively, comic one. Hougland says the Chris Kasper number is like a relaxed breath of summer air.