by Zoë Gorman
Photo credit: Lora Robertson
Making connections across artistic genres has proven to be one of the defining features of 21st-century music, and The Impulse Wants Company—a new ballet given life by a crew of budding artists—continued this trend, oozing collaborative excellence at every turn.
Performed last week at the Joyce Theater, the ballet fused the creative talents of composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, choreographer Troy Schumacher, poet Cynthia Zarin, and the BalletCollective, as part of the vBallet 6.0 Festival. In the program's first half the collaboration centered around bringing an original composition and choreography together to exude the imagery and emotional effect of Zarin’s poem, whereas the second half focused more on the collaboration of the musical performers, who wrote Epistasis (2012) by directly interacting with one another.
The title of the concert’s world premiere, The Impulse Wants Company (2013), is particularly fitting: Zarin’s individual artistic impulses were joined by an intimate collaboration of creative minds. The poem and piece evoked scenes of a beach in summer, with sudden, attacking gestures in the strings, reminiscent of seagull squawking, joined by rolling, ascending scales in the piano that called to mind an ocean tide approaching. Then the piano—Ludwig-Leone’s primary instrument—took off with the melody and began a descending pattern contrary to a slowly ascending tremolo progression in the strings.
In a dramatic break about twelve minutes in, the rolling piano and sombre, mode-shifting strings transformed again to the ascending and descending patterns of the tide in the pianos before coming to a halt on a loud drum beat. The pounding continued as the strings reacted in a frenzy, as if panicked by an explosion. The panic eventually ended, and all that was left were the increasingly far-apart, yet ever-deadly drum beats. Expressive and modernistic string parts ultimately found their complement in harmonically clear, tonal patterns, providing a joyous close that was sonically pleasant, yet still intriguing.
Both halves of the ballet featured expressive tonal progressions and choreography, but the difference in process gave an alternative feel once the curtain opened again. Originally an organic creation modeled off the chamber music version of a “jam sesh,” Ludwig-Leone transcribed and rearranged ACME’s Satellite Ensemble's Epistasis for the second half of the ballet. The piano usually served as the driving force behind most of the melodic and motivic development, often with a legato countermelody in the strings or sudden, reiterated accents. Tremolos in the strings, pizzicato bass notes in the cello ironing out the harmonies, and arpeggios up and down the keys built a multitextured, polyphonic experience.
Particularly effective was Schumacher’s use of symmetry, sometimes overlapping, to fit with the intertwining piano and string melodies. While the music was fluid, it progressed through a multitude of flavors—an inherent effect of the collaborative nature of the writing process. The character of the piece echoed a myriad of influences, from the scalar, descending patterns of Vivaldi to the modernistic fingerboard slides of the Spectralists.