Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

A choreographer offering her own chamber works? That's Laura Dean

In company with many of today's younger artists, Laura Dean likes to mix her media, moving from one art form to another.

Though she is best known as a choreographer and leader of the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians, she is also a talented composer with a distinctive style. Emphasizing this new facet of her career, she recently played host to an evening of her own chamber works at the Bottom Line, a Greenwich Village club that normally presents rock and jazz groups. It was a refreshing recital, although - given the percussive approach Miss Dean favors - not exactly a tuneful one.

About these ads

Her style recalls the ''minimalism'' of composer Steve Reich, with whom she has been closely associated. Like their own titles - ''Song,'' ''Music,'' ''Timpani'' - her pieces are spare and sinewy, pinning simple melodic elements to currents of pulsing rhythm. It's an austere approach, but an invigorating one , stripping away frills and flourishes to reveal a core of uncluttered energy.

As the Bottom Line evening also showed, the ''rules'' of this stripped-down style can accommodate a good deal of variety. The first work, an excerpt from ''Song,'' began with a theme that would be jaunty enough for Aaron Copland, hammered out on a pair of amplified pianos. By contrast, the next offering - from the 1977 ''Spiral'' - started with a dark and driving sound, produced by a cello and vocalist as well as the two pianos.

Later sections of that piece were lissome, however, with a quick and sweet vocal line, leading to a powerful ending punctuated by especially sharp rhythms. In the Reich manner, the singer integrated her voice with the instruments, and amplification was used not just for volume, but to create a monolithic balance of all the forces involved.

The rest of the recital was similarly varied. The music shifted gears according to its own logic - sometimes relentlessly insisting on a single pitch, at other moments gliding into sustained melody or full ''double stops'' from the string player.

After this full-sounding piece, the concert closed with a typically rhythmic touch. Recalling such Reich works as ''Six Pianos'' and ''Phase Patterns,'' the arresting ''Timpani'' used its two pianos as percussively as its kettledrums; the rigorous ''Night,'' originally commissioned by the Joffrey Ballet, combined vivid musical contrasts with piercingly insistent meter.

Miss Dean's music is just beginning to attract serious attention on its own, apart from her choreographic work. In fact, her choreography may be overshadowing her contributions as a composer, through its own dazzling power. Her magnificent ''Dance,'' for example, is such an awesomely brilliant achievement that it can't help overwhelming anything else on the program, including a vigorous performance of a Dean piano duet.

But the multitalented Dean seems determined to make her mark as a composer, and if originality and talent are the determining factors, she is sure to have her way. It's hard to imagine some enterprising record company not taking note, and releasing her compositions to a potentially wide audience. In the meantime, the pieces will continue to be heard in concert as the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians pursue their touring schedule, and ''Night'' remains in the repertoire of the Joffrey Ballet, for which Miss Dean is also preparing a new work. Her star is certain to rise.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.