For over three decades, Malashock Dance has been a moving force in the San Diego arts community. In fact, founder John Malashock — who grew up in La Jolla — was the winner of the Bravo Icon Award in 2017, in recognition of his long years of high-level achievement in the performing arts. The year before, he won the Fieldstone Leadership Network Grant, which allowed him to take a well-earned sabbatical in France. And he spent last month having “a pretty wonderful time” at the Lyric Opera in Kansas City, re-creating — for the 15th time — his choreography for “The Pearl Fishers,” a popular Zandra Rhodes-designed production that originated at San Diego Opera in 2004.
Art of Elan, now in its 12th year, was founded by two members of San Diego Symphony, violinist Kate Hatmaker and flutist Demarre McGill, now principal flutist with the Dallas Symphony. Their aim was to be presenters and curators, bringing classical music — especially contemporary classical music — into the community, attracting more diverse audiences with shorter programs in unusual venues, and commissioning new works from innovative composers.
Last month, Art of Elan was part of the inaugural celebration at The Conrad, La Jolla’s long-awaited new music and arts center. “We had a sold-out concert in their cabaret space,” said Hatmaker, AofE’s artistic director. “It was great, and the acoustics were, too.”
This month, with Malashock Dance, they’re presenting an exciting program of dance and live music at the Lyceum Theatre in downtown San Diego, featuring their current Ensemble-in-Residence, Chicago-based Kontras Quartet, onstage with Malashock’s dancers. Fun Fact: the quartet’s co-founder, cellist Jean Hatmaker, is Kate Hatmaker’s sister.
“Their residency with Art of Elan is a natural continuation of our lifetime of making music together,” Hatmaker said. “For years, I was resistant to partnering with Kontras because of conflict of interest. Then last year, we commissioned a work from Branford Marsalis , and they played with him at the Music Box, and everyone said: That quartet is terrific! We love their energy! Why don’t you bring them back again!”
AofE and Malashock have some history together, too. In 2014, they collaborated on “Lifeblood Harmony” at La Jolla Playhouse, and in 2017, they did “Minor Fall/Major Lift” at the Lyceum.
“High Strung” will include “Intimate Letters,” a darkly emotional string quartet by Leos Janacek inspired by his long-lasting, unconsummated love of a younger woman; and the exuberant “American Quartet” by Antonin Dvorak, written during a delightful summer vacation in Iowa, far away from his hectic life in Manhattan as director of the National Conservatory of Music. The program’s opener will be a contemporary piece, “After Dust,” which combines an excerpt from a 14-movement string quartet by Mary Ellen Childs, who likes to integrate music, dance and theater, with “Tenebrae” by Osvaldo Golijov, an Argentina-born Grammy-winner born who infuses his work with the Latin and Jewish melodies of his youth.
A particularly interesting feature of “High Strung” is what Malashock calls a “choreographic experiment.” He’ll be using the same choreography in the Janacek and Dvorak pieces to show how different the same moves can seem when set to vastly different music.
“There are so many moving parts in this production,” Hatmaker said. “We’re trying to build community through music, and collaborations like this broaden our ability to do that.”
Malashock added: “Dance and music work so well together because they’re not about thinking, they’re about experiencing. We have a gorgeous group of dancers and a remarkable group of musicians, and I think ‘High Strung’ will be a very rich experience for our audiences.”
• IF YOU GO: “High Strung” will be performed 8 p.m. Friday, May 31, 2019 (pre-show young professionals happy hour, 6:30 p.m. plus $15); 8 p.m. Saturday, June 1 (pre-show VIP reception 6:30 p.m. plus $25) and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 2 at Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego. Tickets: $15-$45. (619) 544-1000. lyceumevents.org