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DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: With Gratitude, Looking Back at AMERICAN LYRIC, a Commission by Kaatsbaan Cultural Park- Considering Nature, Music, Dance and Native American Heritage

DAY IN THE LIFE OF DANCE: With Gratitude, Looking Back at AMERICAN LYRIC, a Commission by Kaatsbaan Cultural Park- Considering Nature, Music, Dance and Native American Heritage
Serena S.Y. Hsu

By Serena S.Y. Hsu
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Published on November 29, 2021
Serena S.Y. Hsu

Pianist Hunter Noack, Known for his Series "IN A LANDSCAPE: Classical Music in the Wild" Collaborates with Dancers Garen Scribner, Coral Dolphin, ShanDien LaRance,Or Schraiber,and Taylor Stanley

The Dance Enthusiast caught up with renowned concert pianist, Hunter Noack, who performed his series, IN A LANDSCAPE: Classical Music in the Wild, as part of AMERICAN LYRIC, which premiered at the Kaatsbaan Cultural Park, May 27th, 2021.

A live audience listened  via Bluetooth headset as Noack played cascading melodies by Saint-Saens, Liszt, Ravel, Chopin, and Debussy as well as the illuminary Kara Toprak/Black Earth by Fazil Say; and John Cage's hypnotic homage to Erik Satie, In A Landscape. Five dancers performed self-choreographed pieces as part of the event.

Hunter Noak wearing red shirt, blue denim pants, and black fingerless gloves, sits at a black Steinway grand piano playing it in Kaatsbaan park.
Hunter Noack performs for the 2021 Kaatsbaan Spring Festival at Tivoli in Upstate New York. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


Says Noack, “AMERICAN LYRIC commissioned by the KAATSBAAN FESTIVAL, was a first-time collaborative project between Garen Scribner's GAREN MEDIA, and myself, being artistic director and pianist of IN A LANDSCAPE: Classical Music in the Wild.  Even though I had previously been involved in ballet projects with Oregon Ballet Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and choreographers such as Nicolo Fonte, (Giants Before Us - being my first in 2016) what I loved about AMERICAN LYRIC and the KAATSBAAN experience was working with Garen and the intimacy of having direct conversations with the dancers."


two male dancers perform in the grass. Each stands on one leg while the other leg is kicked high to their side. The man in the foreground is completely in white save for a pink stripe across his chest and his counterpart behind him is dressed completely in pink.
Garen Scribner (f) and Or Schraiber (b) perform to Franz Liszt’s Serenade reinterpreted by concert pianist Hunter Noack (live) / Native American flutist James Edmund Greeley (recorded).  | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"What's most inspiring is the first chapter and what speaks to a particular dancer or choreographer.  As a musician, I can't be as expressive through my body, because my fingers are on the keyboard, and I'm sitting on a bench," says Noack. " It is such a fun  to work with another human who can run and leap or hide and crawl. It's the ‘music of movement’ which draws me to the genre of dance.”

Coral Dolphin a beautiful black woman dressed in a short dress of flowing pink, kicks her right leg high in the air as she cavorts bare-foot in the grass. Her dress moves with her.
 Coral Dolphin dances John Cage's In a Landscape. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
Coral Dolphin, the beautiful black woman dancer in the pink tunic, lays under the Steinway grand piano outdoors.
Coral Dolphin dances John Cage's In a Landscape beneath a 9-foot Steinway grand piano played by Hunter Noack. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


One of the Kaatsbaan AMERICAN LYRIC dancers was ShanDien LaRance, who is Hopi-Assiniboine and Tewa-Navajo. Interwoven with Noack's piano adaptations were pre-recorded renditions by flutist James Edmund Greeley, who is from The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Hopi Nation.

Native American dancer ShanDien LaRance dressed in a short tunic of Royal blue with long sheer sleeves, holds a triangular arrangement of hoops above her head. She is dancing in front of the grand piano outdoors.
ShanDien LaRance performs Claude Debussy's Gardens in the Rain. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


Says Noack, “My concerts feature several different Native Americans – from poets to dancers, and other guest artists. Hopi flutist, James Edmund Greeley, has been the impetus for my performing improvisation. Our longtime music partnership and our new album in-process reminds me how choreographer Merce Cunningham and (composer) John Cage created rhythmic structure together.

Music and dance would come together at points, but then the spaces in between was whatever the dance decided to be or the music intended to be were not necessarily married together. This sums how James Greeley and I improvise within  structural parameters. Within those streams of consciousness, we are pulling whatever we're inspired by into these moments... “

ShanDien LaRance in her gorgeous royal blue outfit moves through her hoops, dancing inside them and peering off to the right as if in contemplation.
ShanDien LaRance performs Claude Debussy's Gardens in the Rain. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

 “What was great about working with ShanDien LaRance was that it was new for both of us.  I had never been involved with creating classical music to Native American dance.  After learning from her about the origins of Hoop Dance; watching her videos; and observing that traditional drums had certain beats per minute; I looked for different pieces that I felt had that same kind of pulse.”

Says  LaRance, "The KAATSBAAN FESTIVAL was my first time performing to classical music and I loved every second of the preparation for this blending of cultures. Hunter sent me six songs to choose from; and Debussy’s Gardens in the Rain really stood out. What I enjoyed dancing to  were its changes of rhythm and tempo both in the musical aspect and for my footwork. Traditional Hoop Dance is constant movement. Debussy requires moments to breathe and be still - the challenge being to adjust as the music transitioned from fast to slow."

"When you watch a hoop dancer from any tribal background, you will see many animals and figures in our dances...  the eagle, the butterfly, the crocodile or serpent; the cowboy riding the horse... All these shapes have meaning in our traditions. In my Hopi and Tewa culture we honor the eagles and hawks as sacred beings. Same for the butterfly, which represents the insects, the plants, and pollination (as) transitions of life."

ShanDien LaRance, the native American dancer, seems to become and eagle in flight with her hoops extended outward to her sides, like wings.

ShanDien LaRance shapes with her hoops an eagle in flight  | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press


Now ShanDien LaRance uses her hoops and dance to become a butterfly.

ShanDien LaRance’s hoops take on the delicate qualities of the butterfly in the more meditative sections of Claude Debussy's Gardens in the Rain. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"In a homeland, where water is precious and scarce," says LaRance, “we pray for rain from our ancestors. I am both Navajo and Hopi. In Hopi culture we are taught that our ancestors become the clouds and bring us rain. In Navajo we are told not to run or shield ourselves from the rain, otherwise)the rain will leave.  My ancestors walked, ran, played and harvested the tribal lands of Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico, with the rivers that run and the trees and earth there ─ and I can feel that energy when I am home."

ShanDien LaRance, concluding her dance kneels on one knee, looking down at her hoops, which are melded into a ball in front of her. This prayer like gesture acknowledges Mother Earth.
ShanDien LaRance with the time-honored Hoop Dance ending, Mother Earth. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

For Noack, the spirituality of Native America is deeply rooted in both nature and storytelling; a call-and-response that is deeply diverse and compelling.

Hunter Noak dressed in a red long sleeved shirt, black fingerless gloves, jeans, black boots, and a belt that appears to be beaded in Native American style addresses the audience, by standing at a microphone beside his grand piano.
Concert pianist Hunter Noack describes how Native Americans have influenced his musical journey and what he continues to learn from their nations, tribes and peoples. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
The audience of American Lyric contemplates the music and dance while seated on the grass wearing blue tooth head phones. One of the audience members listens while looking at her notebook.
At center in the audience, reading a journal, is KAATSBAAN guest lecturer, Naima Penniman, director of Soul Fire Farms, an Afro-Indigenous farming community. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

Noack also finds beautiful lyricism with Fazil Say, a Turkish composer and pianist who interweaves the folk music and the poetry of his homeland into classical music compositions. "In 2013, while I was living in London, I saw Say perform with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja. What captivated me was how much Say and Kopatchinskaja seemed to dance as (they) swayed to the music and how they seemed to deeply communicate between each other with those movements. "

"I feel like conductors are dancers because they're communicating with physical movement. Their bodies are telling (the orchestra) what is happening with the music or what needs to be done to the music. I grew up with the type of training that shunned physical expression from the performer, sitting at a piano. But the older I get, I love seeing musicians as conductors, in a sense, because we have to find ways to work outside the confines of our own body to communicate our inner selves."

Or Schraiber dressed in a silky pink turtleneck neck with matching pants faces the audience in a balletic knee band in the  foreground, while behind him Hunter Noak manipulates his piano’s internal hammers/
Or Schraiber (foreground) performs to Fazil Say's Kara Toprak /Black Earth. In the background Hunter Noack manipulates the piano’s internal hammers, which Say used to emulate the Turkish instrument, the Sad. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"Fazil Say's musical interpretation of Kara Toprak/Black Earth was inspired by a very old poem by Turkish Âşık Veysel, which is still relevant today," says Noack.  It is about a man's relationship to cultivating the earth. Say wished to lay bare the intrinsic connection between the heart and nature... and our responsibility to respect the land on which we live.

Or Shraiber, the man in pink, stands in a crouched profile, in one section of his improvisation.
Or Schraiber dances Fazil Say's Kara Toprak /Black Earth.  | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

Or Shraiber, the man dressed in pink, balances on one leg, with his body bent towards his non-weighted bent leg. His concentration is intense.
Or Schraiber dances Fazil Say's Kara Toprak/ Black Earth | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

" I love seeing how, with certain dances, we set up expectations (for the audience), and either satisfy those or play with them," says Noack.  "With ShanDien, there's a very clear story. Whereas in something like John Cage's In a Landscape [danced by Coral Dolphin] or Fazil Say's Black Earth [danced by Or Schraiber] - those two pieces have a Merce Cunningham and John Cage vibe, where the music and dance change apart, like the weather."


ShanDien LaRance, native American dancer, wearing a royal blue dress, with a short skirt and sheer sleeves, dances on the grass in front of the grand Steinway. She again emulates a birds wings with her hoops.
ShanDien LaRance translates Claude Debussy's Gardens in the Rain into her hoop dance. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
In this semi -profile, we notice ShanDien LaRance's back and her intent expression as she intertwines Native American dance to music by Claude Debussy.
ShanDien LaRance translates Claude Debussy's Gardens in the Rain into her hoop dance. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
Coral Dolphin, the Black woman in the flowing pink tunic, stands in the grass, in front of largish rocks, holding her hands in front of her leaning towards one bent leg while the other is planted straight behind her. She appears to be pleading.
Coral Dolphin performs John Cage's In a Landscape. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press
Coral Dolphin, the black woman in silk pink tunic, appears to be diving towards the ground. One leg is extended behind her as her body leans forward and her eyes look towards the ground.
Coral Dolphin performs John Cage's In a Landscape. | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu / ZUMA Press

"I love the visual time dynamism of nature. I love to play piano during those hours before the sun comes up, and just as it's setting. The shifting of the skies creates those dramatic changes that help us to see more vividly how everything is about change.  If we're near water, then I'll have people stick their toes in the water. I love programming pieces that give people some sort of sensory activity during my performances."

Taylor Stanley, dressed in sheer baby blue pants, and a sleeveless matching tank top holds a beautiful classic arabesque outside in the grass.

Taylor Stanley performs Ondine by Maurice Ravel | Photo: Serena S.Y. Hsu via ZUMA Press

With his ongoing concert series, IN A LANDSCAPE: Classical Music in the Wild, Noack invites audiences the world over to participate in the music of nature; to return to the earth; and to find inspiration from Native America.

"Time is what music gives us to contemplate our own inner landscape..."

The Kaatsbaan American Lyric concludes with the finale, Piano Concerto in G. Adagio assai by Maurice Ravel. Performers from l-r: Coral Dolphin, Or Schraiber, ShanDien LaRance, Hunter Noack, Taylor Stanley, Garen Scribner.

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