Considering the popularity of electronic music, there’s never been an easier time to get people out to clubs to dance. Convincing them to go watch other people dance is a different story.
Figuring out how to bring together those disparate worlds — electronic dance music and the more traditional performing arts — is at the heart of the AcousticaElectronica project. The performance, which runs Fridays throughout August at Oberon, marries elements of classical music, dance, and immersive dramatic theater with the aesthetics and attitude of the contemporary nightclub.
“When you go to an artistic concert it can be kind of esoteric and the audience can feel uncomfortable,” says Colin Thurmond, musical director of toUch Performance Art, the company behind the show. Thurmond is currently working toward a doctorate in musical performance at the New England Conservatory. “It’s difficult to get into if you’re not an aficionado. We wanted to make something with artistic depth, where people can peel back the layers like an onion, but be accessible on the surface. It’s a great way to introduce people to classical music or modern dance or immersive theater in general.”
Art, in other words, is a lot easier to swallow when you’re in the middle of a thumping dance floor with a drink in your hand.
“That’s exactly the point,” says Elizabeth McGuire, the show’s choreographer and a featured dancer who studied dance at the Boston Conservatory. “I’m always harping on the fact that I’m sick of hearing about modern dance companies failing, begging on the streets for grants. I want to hand a demographic who doesn’t get to see what we do in the performing arts a product that’s in the context of 2012, and in a context that’s designed so they can engage in our art. We’re literally trying to bring the arts to people that would have never seen it otherwise.”
The format of the show, which premiered in February, and tested out a similar, stripped-down concept two years ago as part of the Together festival, transports the audience into the middle of a multimedia mash-up of familiar numbers from the world of opera and ballet. Dancers and actors move through the crowd, interacting with the audience, while aerialists twist and turn overhead on silks hung from the ceiling. The show’s resident DJ, Rich Chwastiak, a.k.a. The WIG, plays thumping remixes of classical standards in between performances from opera singers, pianists, violinists, and guitarists.
Before and after the show, a raft of Boston club favorites including Mike Swells, David Day, John Barera, Joe Bermudez, and Randy Deshaies will play DJ sets.
“Say you’re an audience member, you walk into what seems like a normal nightclub almost, you grab a drink, and you start dancing,” McGuire explains. “During pre-show we have go-go dancers, we have principal actors in the audience starting to lay the groundwork for the characters that they’ll experience during the show. Then we have the performance part with classical masterworks remixed as EDM with dance and story line and a narrative. After that’s finished, the rest of the night is a dance party for the audience, like a normal club. It’s three amazing experiences in one night.”
Among the traditional classical characters and tropes referenced is Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, the lovestruck and moon-drunk clown. McGuire’s ballerina character, a riff on Pierrot, dances through the room on movable stages, entranced by the pianist playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” A second dancer plays the role of the giant moth that drives Pierrot insane. Other characters are based on the story of the opera “Carmen” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
“We’ve combined all of those with modern stories as well,” director Marissa Rae Roberts explains. “You meet a girl who works at a club and all [of these] modern characters that are mixed with the classical characters. It’s not just music and dance that are mixed, but also the narrative characters.”
“The story may be dark, but we’ve put a sexy fantastical edge on everything,” McGuire says. “It’s not a downer because the audience is still raving. It’s still aesthetically pleasing, still raw.”
The idea for the show came about a couple years ago when Thurmond first came to the New England Conservatory. He and Chwastiak expressed a mutual frustration with the conservatory setting, which he says has a “kind of ivory tower feel.” It wasn’t easy to explain to their teachers that they played rock ’n’ roll and DJ’d at clubs. Thurmond applied for an entrepreneurial program through the school for grant funding for a show based around classical music and EDM. Soon thereafter he met McGuire and Roberts and began sketching out the idea for a multidisciplinary crossover.
Based on the reaction at February’s performance, where Thurmond says they were turning people away at the door, the marriage of styles seems to be working.
“There are so many different kinds of audiences we draw, from classical players, kids at the conservatories, to an older classical crowd interested in knowing where kids are taking this, to a lot of the club EDM people coming in.”
The inherent drama of both musical styles makes them a natural fit, “but I think people were surprised to see how well they blend,” he says.
“It’s been a treat for the performer to cross that line as well, particularly the ones more accustomed to a staid audience reaction, and not the wild applause of a rock show or club setting,” Thurmond says. “That was really exciting for us as classical performers.”
Case and Point, a new production duo from Boston’s Casey Rankin and TJ Jordan, have made a quick splash this summer with their debut material. A remix of “I Love It,” the deliriously fun jam by Icona Pop, transports the song from the bright summer streets to the dark of the dance floor, while a mix of Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” has racked up an impressive 20,000-plus plays on SoundCloud in a short time. Their first original release, “Razor,” is a study in electro-house tension and release with hard-edged bass synths. All three can be heard at www.soundcloud.com/caseandpoint. . . . Adam X, a techno trailblazer and founder of the seminal Sonic Groove Records, returns to Boston for the first time in years this month to perform at the bimonthly dark electronic CVLT party at Machine on Saturday. Adam X, who began the label 20 years ago in New York, has a new release, “Navigational Shortcut,” dropping in August. “It’s not very often that a techno pioneer of this caliber comes to Boston,” says CVLT’s Logan Hudson. “In fact it’s been 10 years since Adam X last played here, but he’s playing a four-hour set to make up for his absence. Adam X is really on top of his game, still relevant as ever, and coming all the way from Berlin to show Boston how a legend does things.” The set will likely span the gamut of X’s musical palate, from techno and hard acid, to deep minimal and dark house to industrial and experimental. . . . Pico Picante, the electronic world music party that highlights bass music from throughout the globe celebrates its one-year anniversary on Friday at The Good Life with a headlining performance from Sabo, a big name in the moombahton and tropical EDM scene, pushing the Dutch house-reggaeton sound forward. “We’ve worked to put Boston on the map for globally minded tropical bass events, hoping to broaden the idea of what ‘world music’ means,” says promoter Sara Skolnick, who will also perform a set as Pajaritos.
gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @lukeoneil