What do you get when you mix instrumental rock, a string quartet, breathing noises and ballet?
You get a smorgasbord of sensations that Stan Rogers, director of the Friends University Ballet Department, is calling “21st Century Projects.”
The performance features Friends ballet dancers choreographed to live music from popular local rock band Spirit of the Stairs, a string quartet and Von Hansen, Friends University percussion instructor, on marimba and vibraphone.
It’s the first time Rogers has coordinated such a diverse performance for his dancers.
“I’ve used live music before, but it’s nothing like this – it’s usually classical or neoclassical,” Rogers said. “This is kind of far from it.”
Rogers first approached Torin Andersen, guitarist of Spirit of the Stairs, after seeing the band perform on the KPTS show “Wichita Sessions.” He had a radical idea – why not choreograph ballet dancers to the band’s guitar-driven rock?
Andersen said it didn’t take much convincing to get the band on board with the project.
“The idea of gelling something like that is something I’ve never experienced before,” Andersen said. “(Rogers) has been doing this for a long time, so why not trust the guy who’s been doing it?”
The performance, roughly an hour and a half long, is divided into mini-segments.
It starts with a pre-recorded piece of experimental music by Hansen, composed mainly of breathing noises and other avant-garde sounds.
Then the string quartet will perform.
Then Spirit of the Stairs will play for about 20 minutes.
Finally, all of the musicians will combine – with Hansen on marimba and vibraphone – for a three-movement finale written by Andersen.
Rogers said preparing for the concert has been a unique challenge for his dancers – for example, there is no set rhythm or timing for the breathing-noises section.
The dance is an example of the contemporary nature of most of Friends’ ballet performances, Rogers said.
“The only classical thing that we do all year is ‘The Nutcracker’ – almost everything else is contemporary,” Rogers said. “That’s where a lot of ballet companies are moving into, instead of just doing the same old thing over and over, so it becomes more interesting to work with diverse music. As far as movement, it’s more fun because you are able to use the ballet technique but it doesn’t really look like ballet all the time. You don’t see anybody floating across the stage.”
Andersen said Spirit of the Stairs has enjoyed the collaboration, though he admits he doesn’t know what the public reception will be.
“Typically if we’re going to play a bar show, we know what the reaction’s going to be,” Andersen said. “We’ve never collaborated on this scale, so there’s factors occurring that we probably won’t know to account for even after the fact. The scope is pretty big on this project.”
Admission is intentionally cheap, Rogers said, in an effort to draw in a younger crowd, perhaps one that has never seen ballet before.
“We’ve got to educate them, because dance is cool,” he said. “It could spur the interest in movement and dance, which is a good thing.”
‘21st Century Projects’
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
Where: Sebits Auditorium, Riney Fine Arts Center, Friends University, 2100 W. University
What: Ballet performance featuring live music by Spirit of the Stairs, Von Hansen and a string quartet composed of Susan Mayo, Rob Loren, Elizabeth Wallace and John Harrison.
Admission: $6 adults, $4 students and seniors