Where music meets dance

Performing arts: Peabody students are learning how to borrow ideas from each other.

November 20, 1999|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

The student stands, arms folded casually. He doesn't appear to be contemplating his posture. He is, well, just standing there.

Yet, choreographer Yoshiko Chuma discovers perfection in the ordinary. "You are there! You are fine! That's great!"

The barest hint of surprise crosses the student's face. He doesn't want to move lest he lose this perfect pose.

Chuma is in a lower-level room at the Peabody Institute. She and 19 Peabody Preparatory students are rehearsing "Unfinished Symphony."

Under Chuma's direction, "Unfinished Symphony" has been performed in places all over the world, including Bosnia and Macedonia, and it is never exactly the same.

"I title it that because the symphony will never be finished," Chuma says. "We have a beginning, we have a middle, we have an end. But the end is not really the end."

Tonight, "Unfinished Symphony" will be performed at the Peabody in Friedberg Hall as a benefit for the preparatory's school Arts for Talented Youth program.

Arts for Talented Youth is a six-year-old program that introduces Peabody Preparatory students to different artistic disciplines.

"Dancers are in dance class. Musicians are in music classes and so on. They don't get to meet each other," says Leo Wanenchak, the director of the program.

ATY changes that by having students from the different creative disciplines collaborate in workshops, seminars and performances. "It is a holistic approach," Wanenchak says.

In that case, the Arts for Talented Youth program and Yoshiko Chuma are made for one another.

Chuma is the artistic director of the School of Hard Knocks. The New York-based company is described as a collaborative effort of choreographers, dancers, actors, singers, musicians and visual artists.

Born in Japan, Chuma came to the United States in 1976. She has lived in New York's East Village since 1980 and founded the School of Hard Knocks in 1982.

Since its inception, more than 1,000 people have performed under her direction in everything from theatrical dance concerts to street performances and parades.

Her experimental performance pieces include the "Living Room Project" (in association with Danspace Project in New York), which has been presented in New York storefronts as well as in bookstores, hair salons, restaurants and homes in various countries.

Chuma has always incorporated musicians into her performances. Musicians are doing more than playing music, she says. "Music is always a dance. They are very articulate," Chuma says.

In the "Unfinished Symphony," the students engage in what one calls structural improvisation and what reviewers of other performances have called organized chaos.

"It's definitely a lot of improvisation," says Alli Fidler, 16, who attends Park School. "Although many aspects are different every time, they have helped us structure the improvisation."

"They" are Chuma and three others from the School of Hard Knocks who have been coming to Baltimore on weekends for rehearsals. The long, intense rehearsals have taken place each Saturday and Sunday for the past month.

It's a schedule the students are happy to abide by.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," says Fidler, a dancer. "Many of us may never get to work with a New York company again."

Some parts of the "Unfinished Symphony" look like a playful musical duel between the performers. For instance, one violinist may play a brief number standing close to a second one.

Then the second one "challenges" the first with a different number while adopting an "in-your-face" posture.

Although parts of "Unfinished Symphony" may look like impromptu performances, a lot of thought and practice goes into every aspect. Something as seemingly simple as walking is an art form with Chuma.

"How you come out on stage? I think it is important," Chuma says as she coaches the students on walking to their seats and makes them repeat the process a few times until they have it just so.

And as some students stand watching a "duel" between musicians, Chuma instructs them how to look deceptively stationary, while really being in motion.

"Energy is forever," she says. "When you stop, nobody stands like this." Chuma takes a stiff pose, arms straight down by her side. "You can stand and do a little moving forward but no one knows it." She leans forward ever so slowly, and the students mimic.

"They are very open-minded," Chuma says of the Peabody students. "They are giving all they have."

Each student is finding unique lessons from working with Chuma.

Violinist Brandon Potteiger, 15, is learning how to be a better performer by watching others.

"I have a much better understanding of dancers," says Potteiger, a student at Baltimore School for the Arts. "Before ATY, I never had any experiences with dancers. This is giving me interdisciplinary experience."

It took pianist Amy Yeh a few rehearsals to get the hang of Chuma's methods.

"I think, at first, it was kind of abstract for me. But after a while, it started to make more sense. That made me enjoy it more," says the 15-year-old from New Freedom, Pa.

"I am comfortable with myself now and my own body," says Yeh. "There were some situations in the past where I have felt awkward. But now I feel much more comfortable."

Alli Fidler is stretching professionally.

"It's taught me performance quality. It's pushed the boundaries of my own performance," she says.

"Unfinished Symphony" seems like a finale, of sorts, for Fidler and her work with ATY. "It feels like a culmination of everything we've been doing," she says.

`Unfinished Symphony'

What: A gala benefit for Peabody Preparatory's Arts for Talented Youth program

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where: Friedberg Concert Hall, One East Mount Vernon Place

Cost: $75 (includes post-concert reception with artists); $25 all other seats

Information: 410-659-8124

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