Dancers perform modern improv spectacle ‘7-Ate-9’

For four minutes and 33 seconds, musicians take the stage and offer nothing but silence — simply letting the sounds of the environment surround the audience.

This soundless performance is titled 4’33” and was created by American composer, music theorist and artist John Cage, a man known for his role in developing modern dance and avant-garde.

This Saturday, the Laptop Orchestra of ASU produced by Urban Stew will present 4’33” at Modified Arts in an event titled “7-Ate-9” in commemoration of Cage’s centennial anniversary.

The event, organized by the sonic dance group D&spair Club, will also feature modern dance performances by their four members, a performance by percussionist Suzie Berndt and a performance of Cage’s Composed Improvisations by ASU doctoral percussionist Jeremy Muller.

The D&spair Club includes four members, and each artist comes from various interdisciplinary backgrounds. Brent Brimhall, one of the members with a background in martial arts and yoga, said the group originated from a shared interest in modern dance and improvisation.

“A lot of dance groups focus on traditional and modern dance where as we are more about improv,” he said. “In Arizona there isn’t a lot of experimental art groups, so we wanted to bring that here.”

The group also includes composer Courtney Brown, dancer and choreographer Julie Akerly and Julie Cruse, who is responsible for inspiring and directing D&spair’s movement. Brown and Brimhall have little formal training in dance though they have prior practice with Argentine Tango.

Keeping with the guidelines for improv dance, Brimhall said the dancers do not practice choreographed routines, but rather develop movements to pull from when performing.

“We want to stretch the idea of what dancers can do,” he said. “With a lot of traditional forms of dance, the movements are beautiful and interesting, but they get old after a while. Improv dance gives the audiences a wider idea of forms of dance.”

Brown focuses on the connection between music and dance when she performs. She said because of her education in music, she approaches the group’s dances with a different perspective.

“I want to open audiences up to the intersection of dance and music,” Brown said. “A challenge for me as a musician is the visual aspect of dance. I think a lot about the rhythm and less about how it looks and how I am using visual space.”

Brown has been a long-time fan of Cage and is enrolled in a class that focuses on his achievements and compositions. Her role in organizing the events for “7-Ate-9” has allowed her to work with the ASU Laptop Orchestra and the other percussionists who will be performing.

“I have been obsessed with this composer for a while,” she said. “He invented the prepared piano, which is a fantastic instrument that sounds like a percussion ensemble.”

The best part about being a member of a dance ensemble Brown said is sharing a mutual appreciation for the arts with her other group members.

“I used to be in a rock band, so I sort of miss that small ensemble feeling and that feeling of intimacy with working with other artists,” she said.

“7-Ate-9” will start at 8 p.m. at Modified Arts in downtown Phoenix. Following the performances, D&spair will invite audiences to participate in Argentine tango dancing.

“We will have a bit of everything at the show, including dance and music, and after there will be a tango session, and I am pretty excited about that,” Brown said. “Altogether, ‘7-Ate-9’ will be a fun and interesting mix.”


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