Gar­rett + Moul­ton ex­plores mourn­ing, joy

Com­pany un­veils emo­tional works ‘Sta­bat Mater’ and ‘Mad Brass’ at YBCA

The Mercury News - - Eve - By Aimée Ts’ao Correspondent

In the New Or­leans jazz fu­neral tra­di­tion, mourn­ful dirges and hymns ac­com­pany the pa­rade of dead from the church to en­tomb­ment in the ceme­tery. But once the body is laid to rest, the mu­si­cians cut loose and rau­cous play­ing and danc­ing are de rigueur for cel­e­brat­ing the life of the de­ceased.

A hint of that tra­di­tion comes to San Fran­cisco this week when the dancers of Gar­rett + Moul­ton Pro­duc­tions hit the stage at Yerba Buena Cen­ter for the Arts Theater, pre­sent­ing the premieres of “Sta­bat Mater” and “Mad Brass.”

The ver­sion of the Sta­bat Mater used in this pro­duc­tion was com­posed by Ital­ian Gio­vanni Bat­tista Per­golesi, who died shortly af­ter writ­ing it, at age 26 in 1736.

Chore­og­ra­phers Charles Moul­ton and Jan­ice Gar­rett have pre­vi­ously col­lab­o­rated on such works as “Speak, An­gels” and “The Lu­mi­nous Edge,” so delv­ing into the spir­i­tual is noth­ing new for them. Moul­ton points out that “the Sta­bat Mater do­lorosa is the sad­ness of a mother at the death of her child, of Mary at the death of Je­sus. It is Judeo-Chris­tian, but it speaks to a sense of mourn­ing that is non­de­nom­i­na­tional.”

Gar­rett adds, “We started with the idea of do­ing an eveninglength work and the un­der­ly­ing theme of it was the ir­re­press­ibil­ity of the hu­man spirit. As we got fur­ther into the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of what that would look like, through a long cir­cuitous jour­ney, we came to the Sta­bat Mater be­cause we had lis­tened to it for a long time and we had al­ways talked about do­ing a piece to it. That caught me by sur­prise, but this was the time.

“As we started to feel the weight and spir­i­tual as­pects of

the Per­golesi (com­po­si­tion) we be­gan to look for some­thing that would coun­ter­bal­ance it, that was re­lated but re­ally dif­fer­ent.”

The choice was the Ro­ma­nian Roma mu­sic of the renowned brass band Fan­fare Cio­car­lia for “Mad Brass.”

“The Ro­ma­ni­ans just pick up their horns and they blow,” says

Moul­ton. “It’s not par­tic­u­larly in­tro­spec­tive. It doesn’t deal with sad­ness, loss or mor­tal­ity. It’s com­pletely joy­ful, dy­namic and col­or­ful.”

“In ‘Sta­bat Mater,’ it’s be­ing able to tran­scend deep states of in­ex­press­ible grief. In ‘Mad Brass’ it’s joy — liv­ing life to the nth de­gree,” Gar­rett says. “I think they are re­ally con­nected. In the Per­golesi, even though there are very deep and low places in the hu­man psy­che, be­cause of mu­sic’s up­lift­ing and soar­ing you can come out of those un­der­cur­rents.”

Watch­ing a re­hearsal of “Sta­bat Mater” con­firms that the com­pany is com­prised of five very ex­pres­sive solo dancers who have the tech­ni­cal skills to ex­e­cute what­ever Gar­rett and Moul­ton throw at them chore­o­graph­i­cally. The ad­di­tion of an 18-mem­ber move­ment choir, the equiv­a­lent of a corps de bal­let, brings

the to­tal to 23 dancers on stage.

The ef­fect, Gar­rett says, is “Peo­ple are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing to­gether, go­ing through it and transforming the jour­ney of col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. There is a lot of nu­ance in it and it’s been a chal­lenge work­ing with the move­ment choir of younger, less ex­pe­ri­enced dancers and try­ing to draw out cer­tain qual­i­ties in them.”

Moul­ton adds, “It’s been in­ter­est­ing work­ing on both pieces. ‘Mad Brass’ is very easy to make. The mu­sic is in­cred­i­bly sim­ple. The way it’s struc­tured, every­body is in­fected by that mu­sic. ‘Mad Brass’ is a se­ries of dif­fer­ent scenarios within a con­nected whole. In the ‘Sta­bat,’ all the for­mal el­e­ments in the the work need to co­here and progress in a fash­ion which in the over­all state­ment is clear, and with the ‘Mad Brass,’ the over­all state­ment is clear from the first and we’re just go­ing to

run with it.”

The two works em­ploy sev­eral visual el­e­ments, Gar­rett says.

“There are red ar­rows and let­ters on flip cards to spell out words,” she says. “Work­ing with props is a lot harder than you’d think.”

“The ar­rows and other ob­jects be­come some­thing else when ma­nip­u­lated,” Moul­ton adds. “They be­come el­e­ments of a farce and the stage is loaded with in­for­ma­tion.”

Is it sac­ri­le­gious to jux­ta­pose these two di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed pieces of mu­sic on the same pro­gram? Per­golesi was pri­mar­ily noted for his light comic op­eras and even his Sta­bat Mater was crit­i­cized for not be­ing pon­der­ous enough. Per­haps he, rel­ish­ing the irony, would give his bless­ing to the mar­riage of sor­row and cel­e­bra­tion en­vi­sioned by Gar­rett and Moul­ton.


From left, Haiou Wang, Nol Si­monse and Gretchen LaWall em­ploy brightly col­ored props in the per­for­mance of “Sta­bat Mater” and “Mad Brass.”

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