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‘Metamorphosis’: Percussionists and dancers to transform stage at La Jolla’s Conrad for livestreamed premiere

Rob Dillon, Sean Connors, David Skidmore and Peter Martin (from left) of Third Coast Percussion.
Rob Dillon, Sean Connors, David Skidmore and Peter Martin (from left) of Third Coast Percussion will perform in the livestreamed “Metamorphosis” at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Nov. 7.
(Courtesy)

The stage at the La Jolla Music Society’s Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center will transform Saturday, Nov. 7, with the livestream-only world-premiere performance of “Metamorphosis” from Grammy Award-winning group Third Coast Percussion and Movement Art Is.

The collaborative performance blends percussion ensemble with street dance choreographed by MAI co-founders Jon Boogz and Lil Buck and performed by movement artists Ron Myles and Quentin Robinson.

Lil Buck (left) and Jon Boogz of Movement Art Is choreographed movements for "Metamorphosis."
(Courtesy)

The dancers will be onstage along with Third Coast Percussion, a Chicago-based quartet of classically trained percussionists who normally perform all over the country in addition to recording music.

“Metamorphosis” is a “really fantastic project,” said Rob Dillon, a TCP member. The show’s name reflects the “transformation of music” featured throughout, with a program containing new material composed by electronic music producer Jlin and composer Tyondai Braxton, along with TCP’s arrangements of pieces by Philip Glass, a composer Dillon said TCP “reveres.”

“There’s a really interesting expressive range in the music, and the program really flows together from piece to piece,” Dillon said. Jlin’s music is “informed by a sense of movement [with] a dance sensibility built into it,” he said, and Braxton’s is an “amazing tidal wave of wild sounds.”

“Metamorphosis,” which also is the name of an included Glass piece, “felt like such a fitting name for the program,” Dillon said, “because a lot of the music on the program has gone through multiple stages to get to the place where it is for this performance.”

“This project on every level is about the way that our interactions with others transform the work that we do,” he said.

A scene from the "Metamorphosis" promotional video shows movement artists performing.
(Courtesy)

The movement artists will participate at different points throughout the program in dance choreographed by Boogz and Lil Buck, whose work is “rooted in street dancing styles,” Dillon said.

Leslie Danzig, stage director for “Metamorphosis,” said it’s “fascinating that [Boogz and Lil Buck] think very much about character in their choreography; they think very narratively.”

“It’s a really beautiful show,” Dillon said, “unlike anything we’ve done before. It’s a really compelling project that people will be able to appreciate from a lot of different angles.”

TCP members will be playing a wide range of instruments, he said. “Throughout the course of the show, I play some marimba and vibraphone,” along with a variety of drums, gongs and cymbals, with junk metal and a “mutant drum set.”

The “Metamorphosis” show has been in the making for more than a year and has evolved from its original intention as an in-person residency in Seattle, Danzig said.

When the coronavirus pandemic canceled those plans, “we were going to find a way to make this work,” Dillon said. “We are a relentless group of collaborators.”

Leah Rosenthal, artistic director of the La Jolla Music Society, said the performance was supposed to come to the Conrad after the residency in Seattle, and when that was canceled, she was quick to offer the hall for a livestreamed performance.

Rehearsals took place remotely, with TCP in its rehearsal space in Chicago, Lil Buck and the movement artists in a dance studio in Los Angeles, Boogz in a Las Vegas studio and Danzig and the show’s lighting director in their homes in Chicago.

Practicing on Zoom in different cities and spaces is “an act of will,” Danzig said. “We could all throw up our hands and be defeated by the very real limitations of these mediated ways of being together, when all of us in the live arts are really committed to what happens in a room together.”

But she said the “effort and dedication of it is kind of a beautiful thing. It’s proving to be deeply human.”

Rosenthal said she is excited to have “Metamorphosis” at the Conrad as part of LJMS’ ProtoStar Innovative Series, a “cross-disciplinary, collaborative, multimedia art eclectic collection of pioneering and dynamic musicians and performing artists sponsored by the ProtoStar Foundation.”

“Metamorphosis” is a “perfect fit for the new series,” Rosenthal said, “because you’re taking the contemporary but still traditional classical percussion ensemble and mixing it with the choreography,” which is about “creating movement for social change and blending it with street-style dance.”

Staying onstage

Rosenthal said the show’s smaller scale lends itself to the Conrad stage, and organizers worked to keep the performance on the stage under current health guidelines. “We just want to put this work on,” she said. “We’re just so committed to it.”

Rosenthal’s preparations included keeping an eye on pandemic numbers in the Midwest and ensuring that the artists were safe and comfortable in flying to San Diego.

LJMS and the artistic team will follow strict safety protocols while rehearsing and performing the show, including performing in masks.

Dillon said he’s “grateful for a few days in La Jolla to rehearse together, with all of us on the same stage to put the finishing touches on it.”

“Every performance is a logistical project as well as an artistic one,” he added.

The “Metamorphosis” livestream will be the first time TCP will perform with anyone outside the quartet in eight months, said Dillon, who noted that TCP has not yet performed in the San Diego area.

“It’s exhilarating to be able to perform for people and to keep doing what we love to do, even in modified form,” he said.

Though there won’t be an in-person audience and therefore no “visceral experience of being able to look out and see people and get the immediate feedback” in applause, Dillon said “what’s been wonderful about a very difficult situation” is that livestreams make performances accessible to more people.

“We see people watching from all over the world,” he said, “watching from places we have never played a concert. There’s this opportunity to connect with” a global audience.

Danzig said “we have yet to feel what it’s like to have a performer and dancer on a stage actually feel the percussion in the room right next to them, actually be able to catch eyes with one of the drummers. I think a lot of the life of this piece is going to be bringing these elements together and then seeing … two people connecting, one dancing while one is creating the percussion.”

Her job, she said, is to “watch it all come together and notice the little things that happen that then can be repeated.”

“It’s a real honor to work with all of these people,” Danzig said. “It’s an amazing group of artists and I’m excited about this piece.”

Rosenthal said she expects the show to be “really magical and really amazing. There’s a lot of online content right now, but this is new work that no one has seen. It gives me some optimism as we look forward to doing more and more creative projects in the future.”

“Metamorphosis” will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available at bit.ly/MetamorphosisNov7. The concert will be available for digital viewing through Saturday, Nov. 14. ◆