Take a journey with ODC/Dance’s ‘Path of Miracles’
Experiencing a work of the performing arts — a play, a ballet or a symphony — is often described as a journey. That’s because, as it unfolds over time, the route to a destination may be at least as important as the destination.
Take a piece of a piece of music as an example. What occurs before the final moment of sound is what makes the music moving and memorable.
Choreographer KT Nelson’s initial inspiration for a recent and highly acclaimed new dance work was a piece of music. But her response to the music was only the first step in creating a remarkable work of art that is coming to Pittsburgh for four performances.
ODC/Dance and the Mendelssohn Choir will perform Nelson’s “Path of Miracles” Nov. 6-9 at Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral, a presentation of Pittsburgh Dance Council.
Embarked on a pilgrimage
In 2015, Nelson heard an amazing piece of choral music and so loved it she decided to use it for her next work. “Path of Miracles” by English composer Joby Talbot, completed in 2005, is a description of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Catholic pilgrimage route in Northern Spain. She decided that to really understand the music she should make the pilgrimage herself.
In late summer and early fall 2016 Nelson and her husband undertook the 500 plus miles of the pilgrimage across the hilly terrain of Northern Spain.
The choreographer says the biggest surprise on her six-week journey was “how mundane events can be miraculous. Things like people helping you, or my husband meeting a relative he never knew about before.”
The experience was both individual and communal. Handling the rigors of the long walk and managing the challenges and rewards along the way are personal. But meeting and re-encountering fellow travelers created friendships. Caring for others and helping out were two lessons of her pilgrimage.
Central to the experience
In creating her “Path of Miracles,” Nelson tried to keep the music central to the experience.
“I wanted the audience to be as close to the music and dance as possible,” she says. As a result, she created an immersive dance piece during which the dancers, singers and audience interact.
Talbot’s music is written for a small chorus of 17 singers, each with an independent part. In four movements and lasting a little over an hour, it is extremely demanding for the singers. The range is very wide, from the high Cs that make opera sopranos and tenors famous all the way down to low Cs below the bass clef. The chorus sings in seven languages: English, Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, German and Basque.
“You’d probably call the style post-minimalism, but it includes a pretty broad range of styles,” says Ryan Keeling, the Mendelssohn Choir assistant conductor who will prepare and lead the performances.
“It’s a piece I’ve been dreaming of doing for years,” he says. “It’s the kind of piece you think you’ll never have the opportunity to do because of its extreme challenges and unique requirements. So I jumped at the opportunity.”
Nelson says after seeing her “Path of Miracles” many times that it achieves what she intended.
“I’m always surprised at the end when we get there by the appreciation we get from the audience. It’s not whoops and hollers, just a really warm reception of prolonged applause.”
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.