NEWS Metamorphose by Derek Fowles

UMass Percussion Ensemble, Dance Program to Present Collaborative Concert

On Feb. 4 and 5, the department of music and dance will present a unique collaboration between the UMass Amherst percussion ensemble and the UMass Amherst dance program titled “Elements: Movement and Sound.” The project is a multi-media journey into the depths of the natural elements of our world, bringing hope to the present moment through a provocation of the senses.

The concerts, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. both evenings in the Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall, will feature live performances of percussion works by Garth Neustadter and Kjell van Sice, Philip Glass, Jason Treuting and Iannis Xenakis, directed by percussion faculty Ayano Kataoka, accompanied by original choreography by dance faculty Lauren Cox, Molly Christie González, and Aston K. McCullough. In addition to the student musicians and dancers, the performances will also include a special appearance by world-renowned percussionist  and four- time Grammy winner Glen Velez, plus storyteller Muriel Johnson, who will act as host. The programs will also feature lighting design by Bessie Award winner Tuçe Yasak.

The production, the first collaboration between the department’s two disciplines in over a decade, is the brainchild of Kataoka and Cox, who serve as co-artistic directors for the project. According to Cox, using the elements as the unifying theme to connect music and dance was a concept that resonated with her and Kataoka. In discussing ideas for repertoire and new choreography, Cox and Kataoka sought to explore “the crude, primal and refined evolution of the natural elements and how they hold life in many manifestations.”

The program features four pieces of modern percussion music, each invoking at different points water, spirit, air, earth and fire. “Seaborne” is a 30-minute long percussion work by Emmy Award-winning composer Garth Neustadter with an accompanying video by Kjell van Sice. Consisting of three movements, the piece explores our perception of water from aerial, surface and underwater vantage points, both visually and aurally.

In “Japurá River” from Águas da Amazônia by Philip Glass, dancers will perform original choreography by Molly Christie González, while musicians play transparent glass bottles and bowls tuned by filling them with varying amounts of water, symbolizing a river's embrace.

Extremes by Jason Treuting calls for an intimate setup in which four percussionists surround a large bass drum to play intricate composite rhythms in a circle. Aston McCullough’s accompanying choreography, titled “dance iii (bee telling),” is the latest movement in his witch box series, an emergent sequence of eight dances created as a prayer for the environment and all its inhabitants. This newest movement was inspired by watercolorist Richard Yarde’s Study for Ringshout: Dance of the Bees, which will be projected during the piece.

 “Peaux” from Pléïades by Iannis Xenakis, is an energetic drumming work in which six percussionists play on nearly 50 drums, from timpani to sets of bongos. Lauren Cox’s choreography, titled “In Meeting/Thunderstorm,” pairs each dancer with a drummer to fuel their asé (their divine force or energy) to invoke the Orisha, the gods and goddesses from Yorubá faith and folklore, making manifest the power and transformational qualities of each element in nature.

During the performances, Grammy winner Glen Velez will present a special demonstration of his unique style of drumming derived from South Indian, Arabic, Central Asian and South Italian traditions. Renowned as the founding father of the modern frame drum movement, Velez immerses audiences with interactive drum vocalizations and Central Asian Overtone Singing. Velez and fellow musicians Shane Shanahan (percussion), Yousif Sheronick (percussion), and Raman Kalyan (flute) will present an improvisatory music and dance performance of an excerpt from his album, Doctrine of Signatures.

Ticket prices are $15 General public; $10 seniors/students/UMass employees; college students free (ticket required). Tickets may be purchased at the Fine Arts Center Box Office, by phone at 413-545-2511, or online at UMass Amherst COVID-19 policies will be followed (read the full safety policy here).

Tillis Performance Hall is located in the Randolph W. Bromery Center for the Arts, 151 Presidents Dr., Amherst, MA. Free parking is available in nearby University lot 71 off Massachusetts Avenue and lot 62 via Thatcher Way or Stockbridge Road.  Visit the Fine Arts Center website for more information or refer to the UMass interactive parking map.

Elements is supported by funding from the UMass Arts Council, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts Research Council, and Center for Teaching and Learning. The department of music and dance is grateful to the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass and the Estate of Richard Yarde for the use of Study for Ringshout: Dance of the Bees, 2007-2008, by Richard Yarde. Watercolor on paper; 46 5/8 x 46 5/8 in. Yarde's work will be on view at the UMCA as part of the exhibition, “From My Heart to You,” from Feb. 4 to May 1 (