As part of its STAGED series, Ensemble Dal Niente is presenting the world premiere of Argentine composer Tomas Gueglio’s Proa (“prow”), on December 2 and 3 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. Proa features harpist Ben Melsky (of Dal Niente, the Joffrey Ballet) and four dancers from the Mazatlán-based Delfos Danza Contemporánea. The piece’s themes deal with immigration, identity, and alienation.
Watch a video below of a previous collaboration between Gueglio and the troupe.
Gueglio, Melsky, and the Delfos dancers developed the sounds, choreography, and structure for Proa during a week-long residency in Mazatlan, Mexico in June of 2017. “The spirit of this exchange,” says Gueglio, “is one that celebrates the collaboration between artists coming from different places, different walks of life, different disciplines, and that even speak a different language. In this sense, this initiative can hopefully be considered a bit of a remedy to the type of discourse that has sadly become too loud of a presence in the last couple of years.”
Melsky adds, “The choreography for Proa started with a basic idea, a circle. I believe this was Claudia Lavista’s idea [the artistic co-director of Delfos], as circularity suggests an appealing dynamic between repetition and variation, something that could be parallel to an immigration or journey. Using this, we started building the world of Proa, and the themes, patterns, figures, etc. contained within. Our job felt like it was part creator, part excavator, and part scientist. We’d try something, record it, discuss and repeat.”
Watch Melsky and Gueglio collaborate in “After L’Addio / Fell.”
Gueglio’s compositions are noted for their surreal and evocative underpinnings, and include chamber, orchestral, and electronic music, as well as experimental ways to create new sounds from old instruments.
“The piano,” Gueglio says, “I thought of as the mirror image of the harp and derives from a series of pieces entitled ‘Nokia Etudes,’ in which a device built out of cell phone motors activates the strings of the piano to produce sounds that do not sound like a piano.”
Violist, ensemble member, and board representative Ammie Brod welcomes this kind of experimentation. “One of the things I love about Dal Niente,” she says, “is that we’re always doing something new: a premiere of a new piece, a new concert format, a new collaboration, a new idea. STAGED grew out of that mentality, but I find it especially exciting because it’s pushing so many boundaries at the same time. We’re working with new collaborators in completely different artistic fields (theater, dance, video design, etc.), and on top of that we’re putting together productions that really push us to reconstruct what a Dal Niente concert can be. Can it be improvised? Movement-based? Opera? Theater? It’s exciting for me as an artist.”
Proa is one of four STAGED productions that explore the intersections of sound, movement, dance, and theater. Learn more about it and other collaborations at DalNiente.com.