Ballet, Chamber music, Dance, Preview

Hannah Kahn and the Art of Collaboration

A preview by Marc Shulgold

Unless we’re talking about Trisha Brown and that pioneering choreographer’s love of moving to silence, dance is — and always has been — about our response to musical inspiration. In these days of tight budgets and skyrocketing costs, most dance troupes (even major ballet companies) must often settle for recorded accompaniment. But something magical happens when dancers (professionals onstage or amateurs in a ballroom) perform to live music. Ballet, and modern companies, may utilize recordings in the rehearsal studio as a practical matter, but when real, live players share a public performance with dancers, there is an immediacy, a palpable prospect of spontaneity that brings a fresh energy to the work. In a conversation I had with famed choreographer Mark Morris a while back, he explained his insistence on live accompaniment with a typically nonchalant remark: “If you want canned music, go fly on an airplane.”

Dancer Theresa Anton

Dancer Theresa Anton

This brings us to Hannah Kahn, and her company’s program at the Dairy Center in Boulder on Nov. 15 and 16. Two new works will be performed with the capable assistance of 10 members of the Colorado Wind Ensemble. “It will push me into something new,” the veteran dance-maker noted. Creating a piece usually runs like this (though the order in the process may vary): envision a piece, outline the movements, and choose the accompaniment. Then, track down a recording or enlist some musicians to play it. It didn’t work that way at all for Kahn. “Actually, the Wind Ensemble approached us. It’s always been part of the (SCFD) Tier III philosophy: all the IIIs are urged to collaborate.”

Because the Wind Ensemble, and Kahn’s troupe, are members in good standing of Tier III, there is no concern paying for this collaboration. “We’re trading,” Kahn noted. “No money is changing hands.” Not only did Matthew Roeder’s ensemble offer its services, they also suggested the music. Kahn and company will present two short pieces; the first is danced to a Wind Quintet by Massachusetts-born composer David Maslanka, the second to Strange Humors by John Mackey, who is currently based in Massachusetts. The latter, played by five saxophones and drum, was originally written for string quartet — a medium familiar to Kahn. “Yeah, I used to do 35-minute pieces using a string quartet. But I learned that modern-dance audiences don’t go for that full-length sort of thing.”

(Funny coincidence about the collaboration of dance and live wind music: Ballet Ariel, another Tier III company, recently danced Avoca — A Tale of Molly Brown on November 3rd, which included music by Gershwin, Joplin, and MacDowell, performed live by the Gossamer Winds Quintet; read Gwen Gray’s piece on Avoca.)

Not that every work on Kahn’s upcoming program, The Get-Go and Other Dances, will be performed to live music. The title piece, also a premiere, will use a pre-recorded “funky groove” from Bobby McFerrin. The program will be completed by reprises of Rift (from 1996), Double Helix (1995), and a work that goes waaaaay back: Quintet No. 3 in E-flat major (1984), danced to music by Dvořák. Those last three are part of Kahn’s impressive catalog of 140 dances. A resident of the Front Range since 1988, she formed the company, now numbering 13, in 1992. Through all those years in the region, she has maintained a commitment to bring works of visual loveliness and emotional depth to paying audiences, and to introduce young audiences to modern dance by offering participatory in-school programs, such as “How to Build a Dance.”

Hannah Kahn at the Dairy Center

Hannah Kahn at the Dairy Center


The Hannah Kahn Dance Company will present “The Get-Go and Other Dances” at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, November 15-16 in the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Information: (303) 444-7328 or


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