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CelloPointe: Unique Marriage of Music and Dance

CelloPointe: Unique Marriage of Music and Dance

CelloPointe unites high-quality chamber music with sensible choreographies in a unique concert setting that makes music and dance blossom together.

What started as a duo project between Peter Wiley, a Grammy-nominated cellist, and his daughter Dona, who is a dancer and choreographer, became the nationally touring company that is CelloPointe. It is being led by executive director, mother, wife, and cellist Marcia Wiley.

In CelloPointe’s special concert structure, collaborative musician and dancer pieces alternate with chamber music interludes in which the musicians are on stage by themselves. That way, dance and music receive equal recognition, which makes it a multisensory treat for chamber music and dance connoisseurs alike. It also makes a big difference in the artistic process:

“All of the artists in our company need to feel each other, breathe together, and react in the moment. That is what makes CelloPointe a truly unique experience”, executive director Marcia Wiley says.

The fact that dance nowadays is being dominated by the use of prerecorded music – think iPods in class, playbacks at performances, or electronically produced music videos – may cause a lack of musical sensibility in dancers. Wiley expresses that through their work with CelloPointe, the dancers have gained more versatility and flexibility in musical matters.

Members of the CelloPointe cast. Photo: Rachel Neville.

The outstanding quality of the musicians and dancers is definitely one of the core factors of CelloPointe’s success. The company’s work is not so much about creating cutting-edge choreography, as much as it is about truly interweaving dance and music, about “being together, looking at each other, and communicating,” Wiley explains. The choreographers that are chosen to create work for the company are ones that are able to illustrate the music very well.

Fostering this kind of connection between musicians and dancers is one of the key objectives that Wiley has in mind for the company. A cellist herself, she loves that in a chamber music ensemble, the players get to know each other very well in the process. The energy within a quartet, for instance, is far different from the anonymity of an entire orchestra, because everyone is communicating with each other all the time, “everyone has a voice in the ultimate outcome.” It is not only about the musical communication, but also about listening to and looking at each other when playing together. It might even get “very personal when you get to know a group that well.”

Their latest concert at the Manhattan Movement And Arts Center on March 25 featured works by choreographers David Fernandez, Barry Kerollis, Gabrielle Lamb, and Patrick O’Brien, as well as musical collaborations with bassist Michael Franz and violinist Kobi Malkin.

The alternation of choreographies with music interludes makes the pacing of the show feel effortless and gives it an organic flow. Hearing the musicians tune their instruments before and in-between pieces immediately create a concert atmosphere. 

As the musicians enter the stage, they fill the room with positive energy, welcoming the audience with kind words. Dance performances, especially in the ballet and contemporary realm, can be quite abstract and visceral sometimes. Having the music be played live on stage provides a very relatable reason for the movement to emerge. It feels as if the dance becomes physically tangible, with musicians and dancers breathing, swaying, and flowing together.

Uniting cellists and classical dancers. Photo: Rachel Neville.

From the first note on, the exceptional quality of all musicians and dancers cannot be ignored. The dynamic violin playing of Kobi Malkin makes us aware that dancers are not the only ones that are physically moved by the music. Michael Franz makes playing the bass seem effortless, as he vivaciously bows and plucks the strings. It is obvious that cellist Peter Wiley is an experienced musician, but that does not prevent him from playing music with youthful enjoyment and a recurring twinkle in his eye.

The charismatic piece by young choreographer Patrick O’Brien is set to an almost ambient score for cello and bass. The spheric soundscape provides a fertile soil for the captivatingly organic movement, which evokes the association of the soloist moving through a mystical forest.

David Fernandez’ choreography to Beethoven variations from the Magic Flute is a nicely paced piece that explores the different group dynamics within a trio. “Traci sets the rules, Dona develops them and Anne unites them. Traci moves with the cello line [while] Dona and Anne are on the violin journey, uniting for the lively coda.” This hints yet again at the interconnectedness of music and dancing in the creative work of CelloPointe.

Inspired by the Golden Record that Voyager 1 transported into outer space, Gabrielle Lamb’s choreography to Bach’s Dances for a Small Planet transports us into a world of wonder. The two dancers utilize simple gestures, especially the recurring motive of pointing fingers, as a powerful tool to make an invisible object of attention seem tangible.

The last dance piece of the show, choreographed by Barry Kerollis to Undecidedly Solo by Zoltan Kodaly, leaves us with a strong impression of the company’s musical sensitivity on all fronts. The three dancers float atop, between, in, and out of the score. Unexpected turns and pauses in the music paired with “spontaneous onstage decisions” keep the dancers actively engaged with the musicians in a way that would be impossible to recreate with prerecorded music.

CelloPointe’s concept makes for a truly cohesive, and thoroughly enjoyable concert/dance experience. It reminds us that art, after all, cannot be tied down to just one genre, but rather, and ideally, unites different means of expression that reflect the multifacetedness of the emotions we encounter in our human experience.

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