Barbie Diewald, the choreographer for the collaboration between her company, Trio Dance Collective, and The Nouveau Classical Project, directed by Sugar Vendil, is undeniably brave. Her piece, Potential Energies, not only employs live music but makes use of the five musicians (playing flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) as occasional dancers. It is a rare treat to see such a carefully constructed symbiosis of music and dance.

Potential Energies © Emma Tammi and Henry Jacobson
Potential Energies
© Emma Tammi and Henry Jacobson

I have followed Ms Diewald’s work for the past four and a half years, since her arrival in New York. It is a pleasure to chart her choreographic progress; her work is newly expansive, with gesture and floorwork now incorporated into what began as a purely deconstructed-balletic movement vocabulary.

Ms Diewald’s piece began with each of her five dancers paired with a musician: Allison Beler lay her head in the lap of her partner, cellist Kivia Cahn-Lipman; Cara McGaughey perched next to Ms Vendil on the keyboard. Over a series of vignettes, wonderfully supported by composer Trevor Gureckis’ lyrical and occasionally haunting score, the dancers and musicians underwent what appeared to be several stages in a clearly three-dimensional relationship. What began as mild annoyance on the musicians’ parts, when the dancers would attempt to pluck their strings or manipulate an arm or leg (reminiscent, somehow, of cats plopping themselves down on computer keyboards or pushing items off a kitchen table), soon became a stoic indifference and, later, a sort of symbiosis, as both dancers and musicians flitted through the space. This change in attitude kept things lively, if confusing. Though I could find no discernable reason the musicians eventually warmed to the dancers’ intrusions (time? persistence?), I found their final relationship of interdependence the most pleasing. A quartet near the piece’s end, with flutist Laura Cocks, clarinetist Mara Mayer and dancers Christina Soto and Colleen Hoelscher was most effective, a simple but perfect balance between interaction and separation. Other moments that worked well included this same thought of consideration and inclusion, but without intrusion, as when Ms McGaughey would pull Ms Vendil’s long, loose hair back over her shoulder.

Potential Energies © Emma Tammi and Henry Jacobson
Potential Energies
© Emma Tammi and Henry Jacobson

Ms Diewald has nuanced, lovely dancers, but it does seem the musicians were taxed a bit further – they, after all, were asked to play and intermittently incorporate movements (simple rond de jambs or pliés), whereas the dancers did not attempt to play the instruments. The multidimensionality of the musicians’ performance felt like something the British director John Doyle might’ve done – he staged a version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company in which the actors accompanied themselves, serving as their own orchestra. Ms Diewald’s choreography, though intricate, occasionally seemed a mite too fast for the dancers: Rather than being on top of the music, they often seemed to arrive a millisecond too late.

It must’ve been an ambitious project – even the best and most natural of collaborations must suffer some speedbumps in terms of vision and unity – but both Ms Diewald and Ms Vendil have managed to put their own stamp on the finished product. Hopefully their pairing will encourage other musicians and dancers to attempt a similar fusion.