Beth Soll / Richard Cornell

(Originally published in Boston Magazine, circa 1996)

Dancer Beth Soll and Composer Richard Cornell are working together on a dance inspired by a book by West African poet Amadou Hampate Ba (1900-1991). “It’s a long tale, an initiatory allegory, a triumph of knowledge over fortune and power,” says Cornell. “A quest for God and wisdom,” says Soll. “We’re not imitating it, but inspired by it, using it as a point of departure,” says Cornell.

Beth Soll and Richard Cornell have worked together several times before, on Sanddance and Trove, inspired by the idea of aboriginal songlines, dance and music. Soll begins choreographing before the music is written.

“I never work with the music. The dance has its own life,” says Soll. “It begins with a solo, the hero hesitating–awestruck, enchanted by the beauty of the sunrise. Then there’s a sacrifice, involving an anteater, and lots of animal imagery, then the Howl–animals, snakelike, monsterlike animals trek through the muddy murky spirit, howling all the way.”

“And earthquake, wind, and fire,” says Cornell. “And flight of the bird.” “That’s based on some geese I saw on an utterly peaceful crystal lake,” says Soll. “That leads to a dance called Reading the Stars.”

Soll often mixes together formal dance techniques movement seen in paintings, photographs, books,  television, and things she sees in nature or just walking down a city street. Cornell’s music is a composition, literally put together (via computer) from recordings of all kinds of different sounds. “I take found sound objects and transform them in a computer or other signal-processing techniques,” says Cornell.

“Field recordings of geese and some other animal sounds — I think I used frogs — and the other primary source is water. I make a sound palette out of them, and transform them with digital means, transmute them into other kinds of sounds. I never use synthetic sounds; natural sounds are more complex. Oh — and the vocal utterances of the dancers, subjected to similar transformations.”

Both combine a classical discipline and formal rigor in the practice of their art with an openness to ordinary movement and sounds; their collaboarations convey the sense of strange and wonderful moments wrought from the ordinary stuff of daily life. “It’s alchemy. No, it’s not alchemy. It only seems like alchemy,” says Cornell.

by Rebecca Nemser for rebeccanemser.com

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