Sounds of jazz, Benjamin Britten, spoken word and Vivaldi come together in an original Ballet Montana work, “Voices Four,” premiering 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, at the Myrna Loy Center, with shows through July 27. A reception follows the performance opening night.
Now in its 17th season, Ballet Montana presents an evening of classical and contemporary ballet, “Voices in Hand,” a collection of three different works.
Founding director Sallyann Mulcahy calls the evening of dance a journey with different glimpses of voices and hands.
The opening piece, “Voices Four,” is Mulcahy’s latest choreographed work and is a unique collaboration of dancers, jazz musicians and singers.
Written in four movements, the first, Voice 1, Tradition, opens with classical ballet danced to music by Antonio Vivaldi.
Voice II, the second movement, is danced to spoken word. The “The Dance of Life,” written in 1923 by essayist Havelock Ellis. “It is about how important dance is,” said Mulcahy. To Ellis, the arts of dancing and building were of primal importance as art forms.
“Tit for Tat,” with lyrics by Walter de la Mare and music by Britten, is the focus of Voice III, the third movement.
“They are very deep songs,” said Mulcahy, and are performed by Basin jazz singer MJ Williams, Helena baritone Kevin Mathews and Helena musician Mark Walker at the piano.
This work is the “glue of the collaboration,” said Mulcahy.
The final movement of “Voices Four” is the jazz composition, “Conference of the Birds,” also performed by Mathews, Williams and Walker.
Although Mulcahy has worked with Mathews before, this is the first time she has collaborated with Williams and Walker.
Mulcahy said she was searching for a way to work with Williams, but wasn’t sure just how to fit all the pieces together. “MJ listened to the Britten, and she saw how she could collaborate,” said Mulcahy.
“We had to have a top-notch accompaniment,” Mulcahy added, and Walker, who is known for his mastery of classical and jazz music, immediately came to mind. “He’s a very accomplished pianist.”
While Vivaldi’s opening movement is very nice and serene, said Mathews, the Britten and jazz have a very different emotional feel to them, presenting challenges for the musician, singers and dancers.
The Britten work is a series of poems and the music was written by the composer as a teen, said Mathews. They’re about adolescence, dealing with sadness, loss and anger.
“It has quite a range, as far as the notes and emotional expression,” he said. “It goes from gentle to anything but gentle.” And as the work progresses, Walker, Mathews and Williams do a lot of jazz improvisation.
“It’s so open, it can turn out different ways,” said Mathews. “It allows for different variations. You’re aiming together to see what happens.”
“I love working with Sallyann,” said Williams. Mulcahy “wanted to push things out a bit,” said Williams, who describes herself as “really into pushing things out a bit.”
Primarily, Williams is involved with the final movement, “Conference of the Birds.”
“It’s along the lines of how jazz improvisation works,” said Williams. “You have the written piece and then improvise off of it. It’s a lively little four-part-harmony work for two voices and two voices on the piano.”
“I just think it’s really exciting that Sallyann has incorporated us,” said Williams. “Live music in ballet is pretty stunning. There’s so many things that can be done. I’m so grateful that she has the interest in it.”
The innate movement of the pieces is brought to life by the dancers.
Dancing the work are professionals with Ballet Montana, who come to Montana each summer to work with Mulcahy and be part of her resident dance company housed at Carroll College.
One of the dancers, Halliet Slack, now in her sixth year working with Mulcahy, also dances with Dayton Ballet.
“The opening movement is going for pure classicism, which is very beautiful,” Slack said. “It’s just enjoyable.
“I’ve never danced to poetry before,” she said of the other movements, but has faith in Mulcahy’s vision and creativity.
“It’s very richly textured, with live music and live voice,” Slack said. “I think it’s going to be really, really special. I know it’s going to be amazing.”
Also dancing is Jesse Campbell, who has previously appeared in Helena with Queen City Ballet and also danced with Dayton Ballet. “It’s a pretty unique process,” he said of his work this summer with Mulcahy.
“It’s a very good growing process for me. The way we work here is really different than I worked in the past. She has meticulous attention to detail. We’re not just a body on the floor.”
Mulcahy, a Helena native, danced professionally with ballet companies in Canada and New York, and returned to Helena to create Montana’s sole professional ballet company.
Another work that will be performed as part of the evening program “Voices in Hand” is “Zinzkaro,” danced to Georgian folk music and choreographed by Nathan Powell, now in his sixth season with Ballet Montana.
The final work is “The Hands,” a musical composite of works by Denise Levertov, Eric Clapton, Mozart and more. Originally choreographed by Paddy Stone, it was previously performed by Ballet Montana in 2002.