A unique cultural event will take place Saturday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m., as dancers from Ballet Quad Cities are partnering with musicians from the Quad City Symphony Orchestra on a bill with three 20th-century works.
Before the professional dancers take the stage at St. Ambrose University’s Galvin Fine Arts Center, QCSO principal bassoonist Benjamin Coelho explores the rhythms of jazz in Libby Larsen’s Jazz Variations for Solo Bassoon (1977). Dancers from Ballet Quad Cities join principal clarinetist Daniel Won and principal bassist Dave Scholl to perform the swing-era inspired Benny’s Gig — composed by Morton Gould (1913-1996) for the great jazz clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman.
The full group comes together to perform Igor Stravinsky’s influential and rhythmic ballet The Soldier’s Tale (1918), which depicts the timeless story of a young soldier who makes a deal with the Devil. Join the musicians for a Listener’s Guide before intermission to learn more about this engaging work.
This special concert has been more than two years in the making, since QCSO executive director Brian Baxter and concertmaster Naha Greenholtz reached out to BQC artistic director Courtney Lyon, to stage the dramatic “L’histoire du soldat” (“The Soldier’s Tale”). It features Greenholtz on violin, Won on clarinet, Coelho on bassoon, Scholl on bass, Matthew Onstad on trumpet, Michael Cox on trombone, and Tony Oliver on percussion.
It will be danced by Nicholas Bartolotti (Soldier), Christian Knopp (Devil), and Sierra DeYoung (Princess)., and narrated by Shelley Cooper, Augustana College assistant professor of theatre arts.
“They’ve never done it with dance before,” Lyon (who choreographed the two pieces) said of the QCSO playing the hour-long “Soldier’s Tale.” “In terms of the dance world, Soldier’s Tale isn’t necessarily something that people would know, like The Nutcracker. It’s not a narrative that is all that well-known, even though it’s Stravinsky — who has made some of the most famous ballets in the world – ‘The Firebird,’ “The Rite of Spring.’
“So this is a really unique experience for me and us,” she said, noting the thrill of merging spoken word, music and dance.
“We’re really wanting to honor the value of this unique thing – these three different art forms coming together on stage; it feels very special,” Lyon said.
Compared to traditional (wordless) ballet, it may be easier for the audience to follow the story, with a narrator, Shelley Cooper — who’s a veteran singer and actress.
“They will find it more useful,” Lyon said. “It was just a different way for me to work. When I choreograph ballet, that’s a narration. I, of course, make sure what I do matches the music, but I make sure the storytelling is really clear for the audience.”
“So now with the narration with that text, it’s so cool because it’s just added elements,” she said. “It’s another rhythm, it has really specific meaning. When I made the choreography, I used that text, to use that voice. It was like, you still can use your imagination. I feel like it’s still takes you to another place.”
“Soldier’s Tale” is a Faustian story of a young soldier who makes a deal with the Devil. Walking down a lonely road, the soldier stops to play his fiddle, and the Devil (in disguise) listens. Approaching the young soldier, the Devil offers him a trade: the fiddle for a book that can tell the future.
The Devil suggests a trade of three days, and eventually the soldier relents. Of course, the Devil has deceived the young man; upon his return to his village, everyone is terrified of him, as they think he is a ghost. It has, in fact, been three years, not three days. The Devil appears as an old woman selling wares, one of which is the violin. The soldier buys back his instrument, but it no longer plays. He tosses the fiddle away and tears up the future-telling book.
The second half of the drama unfolds with the soldier hearing about a sleeping princess; the king has offered her hand in marriage to anyone who can awaken her.
“Benny’s Gig” will be danced by Nicholas Bartolotti, Christian Knopp, Madeleine Rhode, Jillian Van Cura, and Mahalia Zellmer.
“I love it. It’s so cool,” Lyon said. “It’s really kind of a sparse score. It was written in the 1960’s, originally to go on tour for Benny Goodman. It’s eight short pieces of music that all have like a different feel to it.”
“I love 20th-century composers. I like to work with them as often as I can,” she said. “I think that 20th-century composers aren’t always considered dance composers, maybe sometimes, but I think pretty much any music is danceable. So I love taking a score and bring it to life.”
“I studied the score, and I tried to just bring that music to life on stage,” Lyon said. “The dancers together will create an unforgettable image in people’s minds and like an unforgettable feeling, an unforgettable atmosphere.”
The unique nature of the night will be more special with the guest conductor, Kyle Knox, who’s married to Naha Greenholtz. Formerly a clarinetist with the Milwaukee Symphony, Santa Fe Opera and Philadelphia Orchestras, Knox is now music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and associate conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
“He is just a really great art supporter,” Lyon said of Knox. “He’s very excited about pulling this event together. He has conducted ‘The Soldier’s Tale’ before. So he came in our studio last week so we could do a run-through, you know, check tempos and staging and he was just like thrilled. He was like, this is great.”
The added performance is an extra layer of responsibility for the dancers, on top of their regular season and school outreach performances.
“It keeps them on their toes for sure, pun intended,” Lyon said. “And for the dancers it is like a bonus opportunity, because it stretches them in stretches them in a new way. Everything we do that’s a little different is just a really cool opportunity to grow as an artist.
“So the stuff that’s happening in the Quad Cities, this is pretty rare to have this event happening especially in this time,” she said. “But to have these three arts together on stage. So the dancers are really respectful of it. They think it’s awesome and they’ve done extra work. They’ve had to do a little extra work on their own outside the dance studio as well, to really understand the background of the story, read the story, to listen to the music.”
Taking “Oz” to schools
This week, Ballet Quad Cities also is performing “Dorothy Goes to Oz” for all elementary students in the Pleasant Valley School District. October is Bullying Prevention Month and the district partnered with BQC to create a program that “supports the most unlikely of friendships featured in the Wizard of Oz story,” district spokeswoman Beth Marsoun said Wednesday.
“The students who saw the first performance were just enthralled. We’re so proud of this partnership to help our students learn humanity through the arts,” she said. The new ballet take on the “Oz” tale was presented outdoors Sept. 12 at the Outing Club, Davenport.
Facial coverings will be universally required for all indoor QCSO concerts for as long as community transmission remains substantial or high in both or either Scott and Rock Island counties according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker. Once transmission rates become moderate or low in both Scott and Rock Island counties according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, masks will be optional for vaccinated individuals and strongly recommended for unvaccinated individuals. Facial coverings must be worn properly, covering the nose and mouth. Patrons arriving without appropriate face coverings will be provided with a disposable face mask.
Tickets for the Saturday program are $25 each for adults, and $10 for students, with an option of $25 for a household live stream and digital access. The link to the Live Stream and your personal access code will be included in your ticket purchase confirmation email.
The digital concert will be a live stream on Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m., and will be available for viewing for 30 days following the live stream. Please allow 12 hours for video processing after the conclusion of the live-streamed event.
While the QCSO made several full Masterworks concerts last season available online for 30 days, the first one last weekend (featuring pianist Garrick Ohlsson) was not. The digital access depends on the overall cost and agreement with the musicians, said QCSO spokeswoman Caitlin Bishop.
“We saw increased engagement for our Chamber Music Series last year (formerly known as Signature Series) and we are planning to provide Live Stream + Digital Access for all Up Close Series performances this year,” she said by e-mail of the new name for the QCSO chamber series.