Alex Mah Photo by Sheng Ho
Native Green Photo by JoAnn Baker, courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Trust
Our spring mainstage dance show, Perspective/Retrospective, opens tonight. Two out of the three pieces in the program will feature live accompaniment. For Merce Cunningham's Native Green, music student Alex Mah will play a score by John King on a prepared violin.
Wednesday, April 2 - Saturday, April 5, 8:00pm
Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre
Tickets: $15 / $5
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ABOUT ALEX MAH
Alex Mah is a composer and interdisciplinary performer based in the Vancouver area. Chamber music, live and fixed pieces involving acousmatic techniques, and noise music are concentrations. With his group Dissonant Disco, he devises context-based performance pieces. He regularly engages dance and theatre artists in collaboration, which in turn, informs his process as a composer.
Artistically, he is concerned with balance, juxtaposition, and the human element in performance.
We asked Alex about his experience re-creating the work and what to expect tonight.
- How has the experience working on Native Green differed from other shows you have performed at the school?
I have not been involved in the recreation of a major piece before and especially not one so prized as this. Most of the work that I have performed has been created by myself, my peers, or in collaboration with faculty. Rarely have I even worked directly from a script or score, not counting my studies as a composer. It has been an unusual, but quite rewarding experience re-staging an historic work.
- You had the opportunity to work one-on-one with John King, what was that like? Did it help you with understanding the piece and Cunningham's philosophy on music and dance? What other materials did you have to work off?
Working with John has been great. He's helped me a fair bit over email, but it was quite fortunate to meet him and discuss the piece in person. He's thrilled to have the work performed again and John has placed great trust in me to recreate the music. We spoke about the process through which he composed the piece and I was surprised to hear about the parallel, though incongruent creative structure involved in Merce's pieces. Both music and dance were fully created first and then presented together in performance. The composition was commissioned as a 16 minute piece and the dancers did not hear it until the dress rehearsal!
The materials I've had to work with are from the Merce Cunningham Trust, which include a picture of the prepared violin, the original score, and a package of files for the electronic tape portion.
- Can you explain how your violin has been prepared?
With a picture of John King's prepared violin and John's advice I went about finding two kinds of lead fishing weights, split shot and sinkers as well as metal nuts and pieces of cork. Using that picture and a pair of needle nose pliers, I fastened the weights to the strings as indicated and threaded the bolts onto the A and E strings. Then I placed the two pieces of cork under the two low and two high strings respectively. Then I took a picture and got some corrections from John. I have also amplified my violin with a contact microphone.
- You will perform the piece for the first time with the dancers on opening night. How has it been to rehearse solo for this performance?
It's been a bit odd not to be rehearsing with them weekly. At the very least, I think it might have been helpful to get a sense of the energy of the movement. That being said, I completely understand and approve of the idea behind the separation. As a composer, it is completely normal to work and develop a piece largely separate from the performers. I had a few concerns about the piece - some techniques in the score - but after having a session with John and getting the green light from him, it has been quite manageable.