Legendary session bassist Carol Kaye might seem an unlikely inspiration for a quartet of dance works. Nonetheless, at age 87, she’s the subject of “The Carol Kaye Project,” the full version featuring the work of four women choreographers for Boston Dance Theater, offered over the weekend in a Global Arts Live presentation at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Last year, BDT brought the first two parts of “The Carol Kaye Project” to the ICA, with premieres of Rosie Herrera’s “Ofrenda” and Rena Butler’s “For the Record.” Now Karole Armitage’s “Carol/Karole” and Stinnett’s “Legacy” complete the invigorating 75-minute set, most of it performed to Kaye’s own recordings.
The link between electric bass and dance is BDT’s founder and co-director (with Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili), Jessie Jeanne Stinnett. Her father, Jim Stinnett, was a bassist; so is her brother Grant. In her program note, Stinnett explains, “The bass has the magic to inspire us, to make us want to bop our heads, or just to get up and dance.”
“Carol/Kaye” leads it off. We see five jade-green chairs ranged across the stage while Berklee College bass department chair Steve Bailey, in voiceover, pays tribute to Kaye. Wesley Urbanczyk, Henoch Spinola, Khris Henry, Olivia Coombs, and Stinnett, all in black leotards, sunglasses, and boots, enter one by one, each carrying a bass guitar. They set the basses on stands behind the chairs and sit in the chairs, whereupon Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ " starts up. They kick in place from the chairs, they hit the floor and kick some more, their leg show keyed to Kaye’s bass line. Stinnett and Spinola do a finger-snapping, hip-swiveling duet to Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On”; then, to the “Mission Impossible” theme, the dancers, having got their instructions from Bob Johnson’s voiceover, use music stands and chairs to fight off the bad guys.
Nothing else in “The Carol Kaye Project” outlines Kaye in quite such sharp relief. Former Boston Pops bassist Dave Buda and Phish bassist Mike Gordon offer additional testimonials before “For the Record” begins with Kaye reminiscing about her career. Henry and Spinola do a light-hearted duet to Frank Sinatra’s “Something Stupid,” there’s a group undulation/agitation sequence to Kendrick Lamar’s “Feel,” and a snatch of session rehearsal. Toward the end Coombs solos in a spotlight while the other five dancers watch. We hear Kaye talking, wishing she could have spent more time with her kids but concluding, “Most of the time, they were fine.”
“Ofrenda” gives you more to think about. It begins in silence, a spotlit figure in red surrounded by five mic stands trying to free himself of his clothes. Coombs and Carley Lund duet to Mel Carter’s “Hold Me.” A repeated 10-second session rehearsal snippet has the bandleader asking his players to amp it up; they do, and so do the dancers. Stinnett does a tender, whimsical solo to Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” Then to Vikki Carr’s “It Must Be Him,” Coombs acrobatically wriggles out of umpteen layers of clothing, sits in a chair and is covered with a shroud, enacts a kind of pietà with Stinnett, plays bass and is rewarded with an LP (gold record?) and a teddy bear. It all ends with Stinnett, feet planted, twisting and turning as huge mylar sheets blow in from the wings.
“Legacy” is the dessert on the program. To an original electronic score by Grant Stinnett (who in his voiceover calls Kaye “the cornerstone of the bass universe”), everybody cuts loose, and we get rewarding solos from, in particular, Coombs, Stinnett, and Lund. Much of the dancing is, unfortunately, obscured by the rear light bank; often you can hardly tell who, never mind what. The highlight here is the line of six dancers with basses sashaying slowly on stage and then twirling their instruments. There’s also a brief “Saturday Night Fever” allusion, but mostly “Legacy” is just people getting up and bopping to the bass line.
“The Carol Kaye Project”
“Carol/Karole,” by Karole Armitage. “For the Record,” by Rena Butler. “Ofrenda,” by Rosie Herrera. “Legacy,” by Jessie Jeanne Stinnett. Performed by Boston Dance Theater. Presented by Global Arts Live. At: Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, Friday Nov. 11.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.