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Strings And Slippers: String Quartet, Rock Quartet And A Ballet Combine At Friends This Weekend

Kevin Wildt
Spirit of the Stairs

Twenty-First Century Projects is a new collaboration between Wichita musicians and the Friends University Ballet. The project brings together rock band Spirit of the Stairs, composer Von Hansen and a string quartet led by cellist Susan Mayo. According to Mayo, it was Friends University Ballet Director Stan Rogers who conceived this new project.

Credit Kevin Wildt
Susan Mayo

“He heard Spirit of the Stairs and really liked them. He loves their music,” Mayo says. “He and I were at one of their performances last spring and got talking about how cool it would be to collaborate on something. I have a string quartet that does some interesting things. A conversation started. Stan pooled everyone together [including Von] and said, ‘Why don’t we have some original music, put the musicians on stage and do a grand finale with everybody all together?’”

The piece is more than a collaboration between the musicians and the dancers. It's also a collaboration between the rock and classical worlds and a confluence of improvised and composed music. Mayo and Hansen took original music from Spirit of the Stairs guitarist Torin Andersen and arranged it for the unique configuration that the ballet would use. They would then present ideas to Rogers. Rogers, Mayo says, became an integral part of the composition process.

Credit Kevin Wildt

“Stan would listen and say, ‘Can I have a soaring cello part here? Can I have a measure of 5/8 here?’ It’s been a fun process to see it evolve,” she says, pointing out Rogers’ own musical background. “I think he played percussion. He understands music. He’ll go through a piece and count out the beats and measures. It’s interesting to see a dancer’s perspective of music and how they organize it is different than how we do it.”

She adds that working with a rock band, featuring musicians who were working from memory and not musical charts was equally eye opening.

“It’s hard for me to fathom the memory they have and the aural memory they have,” she says. “One of the movements we’re doing starts out in six, and then someone comes in and overlays a pattern of seven on top of that, and then someone comes in and overlays a pattern of nine on top of that.”

Credit Kevin Wildt

Mayo’s string quartet is also part of the evening. She’s joined by violinists Rob Loren and John Harrison as well as violist Elizabeth Wallace. Mayo points out that the intention of that group was always to expand the boundaries of what a classically inspired group could explore.

“Originally the idea was that everybody would improvise,” she says. “In the piece that we’re doing, there’s improvisatory sections that Rob and John did. It’s fun.”

Though the coming together of a diverse group of musicians and dancers is part of the event, it is also a celebration of Wichita talent. And, maybe, a little more.

“It’s a happening,” Mayo says. “It’s not just a performance. It’s a collaboration of all these people and just a really interesting concept of having the musicians on stage with the dancers. And to have so many different types of musicians all on one stage together is, I think, a really intriguing event. It will be great.”

The event 21st Century Projects at Friends University’s Spring Ballet is this Friday and Saturday evening.


Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.