Malashock Dancers will move with Élan in ‘Lifeblood Harmony’ at UCSD

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

“Music is the lifeblood of dance,” choreographer John Malashock, artistic director of his own well-known and long-lived local dance company, once observed.

On April 17-19, there will be a new harmonic convergence when 11 of Malashock’s dancers team up with a half-dozen instrumentalists from the boundary-breaking chamber group, Art of Élan to create “Lifeblood Harmony,” a program set to the live music of three adventurous contemporary composers, to be presented at UC San Diego.

Though they may not be household names here, Judd Greenstein, David Bruce and Osvaldo Golijov are the kinds of music-makers Élan loves to showcase. Greenstein is part of NYC’s hip, Brooklyn-based, “indie-classical” scene; Bruce’s works mix earthy rhythms with heartfelt emotion, and include chamber operas and steampunk; and Argentina-born Golijov is a Grammy-winner whose style spans cultures and centuries. Their music has underlying messages. Greenstein’s “At the End of a Really Great Day” proposes living life so fully that you die “at the end of a really great day.” Golijov’s “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” suggests acceptance of all the unknowns in our lives. And Bruce’s “Gumboots,” inspired by a dance form that first took shape in the depths of South African goldmines, shows the triumph of the spirit over even the darkest eventualities.

“That’s the overall theme of the program, the resilience of the human spirit,” said Élan’s Artistic Director, violinist Kate Hatmaker. “Art reminds us that no matter how difficult things are, we can find beauty in the journey.”

The evening’s journey will include violins, viola, cello, and multiple clarinets, playing music that Hatmaker said was often “super challenging, but really cool. The rhythms and colors may change constantly, but it all has to sound effortless. You have to really feel together as a group, and so do the dancers.”

The “Lifeblood Harmony” collaboration is the latest example of Élan’s musical mission: introducing San Diego audiences to pieces they’ve never heard before.

“People sometimes get scared off by contemporary composers, but we look for the ones who are writing in a way that’s accessible, relevant, and melodic — the ones we think audiences will love,” Hatmaker said.

Working with Malashock has been a wonderful experience, she added. “He’s a lovely person, such generosity of spirit, and he’s come to Élan’s concerts for years, so when he approached us last summer about collaborating, it was ‘Oh, yes!’ He immediately resonated with the music, his choreography is terrific, and I was just blown away by the dancers.

“For me, 90 percent of the work is choosing the right music,” Malashock said. “The three pieces we’ve chosen are vastly different from each other. Greenstein’s ‘Great Day’ has a light, bright quality, though there’s a sense of loss underneath, so it pushed me into a different vocabulary of movement, with a lot of humor and personality. Golijov’s ‘Isaac’ delves into the wild, ecstatic state of spirituality, and Bruce’s ‘Gumboots’ is really two pieces in one, the first with a lot of weight to it, and the second totally exuberant.”

There are always surprises in Art of Élan programs, and Malashock promises the same in “Lifeblood Harmony.”

“I’ve had more fun with this rehearsal process than any other,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like any work I’ve done before. I think the show will surprise a lot of people.”


Malashock Dance and Art of Élan present “Lifeblood Harmony,” 7:30 p.m. April 17-19, at Mandell Weiss Theatre, UC San Diego. Tickets: $16-$45


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