American Repertory Ensemble's Dialogues

The art of conversation

Dialogues, by their nature, require more than one party. They're all about the back-and-forth, the give-and-take, the exchange when separate perspectives or ideas or talents are brought together. David Justin and Rob Deemer know that all too well; for a year, the two have been setting up a dialogue between their artistic disciplines – dance for Justin, music for Deemer. Now, these worlds already have a long tradition of conversation, but in performance, usually with dancers onstage and musicians in the pit, the physical separation and focus on the visual has left the conversation feeling largely one-sided. Justin, who teaches in the UT Department of Theatre & Dance and is artistic director of its Dance Repertory Theatre, and Deemer, who received his doctorate in composition from UT and currently chairs the composition department at the University of Oklahoma, sought to create a true dialogue between music and dance via an ensemble of artists from both worlds who would share the stage in concerts.

Their brainchild, the American Repertory Ensemble, debuts this week with an eclectic program that ranges from Balanchine's "Pas de Deux," danced to Tchaikovsky and arranged by Deemer for string quartet and piano, to John Cage's "In a Landscape" to the Joe Cocker tribute "Just a Regular Joe," featuring Justin's choreography to six of Cocker's signature songs. If that doesn't sound like your typical pairing of dance and chamber music, well, it won't look like it either. "There are no accompanists here," Deemer says. "Everybody's onstage at the same level." Mostly, the musicians and dancers are performing in separate areas but not always. In one piece, the musicians set down their instruments and do a few moves choreographed by Justin, and in "The Unknown Soldier," with music by Deemer, even the composer gets into the act, reciting text and performing some of Justin's steps. "We're doing our best to break down those boundaries" between musicians and dancers, he says. "I've been pushing everyone to see each other so that the dancers are aware of what the musicians are doing and the musicians are aware of what the dancers are doing."

It helps that they have a roster of stellar professionals, from the local scene – the Tosca String Quartet; pianist Michelle Schumann; Ballet Austin dancers Eric Midgley and Aara Krumpe – and across the country: Misa Kuranaga and Gabor Kapin, Boston Ballet; John Welker and Christine Winkler, Atlanta Ballet; Ikolo Griffin and Jennifer Goodman, Joffrey Ballet; Kathi Martuza, Daniela Deloe, and Brennan Boyer, Oregon Ballet Theatre. "We're not seeing this as a pick-up group," notes Deemer. "This is an artistic endeavor of the highest quality. If you're putting together a group for a gig next weekend, you get who you can. We were looking for people who can play at the highest level anywhere."

And anywhere, it turns out, includes Scotland; ARE's four performances in Austin will be followed by five at the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. That's a nifty gig for its premiere season, but for Deemer and Justin, it's not about the venue as much as the conversations – those between music and dance and those between artists and audiences, wherever they may be.


Dialogues will be performed July 21-23, Friday and Saturday, 7:30pm; Saturday and Sunday, 2pm, in the McCullough Theatre, UT campus. For more information, call 762-4125 or visit www.americanrepensemble.org.

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