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Beacon dance concert ’22 will shine a light on collaboration

Bill DeYoung



Helen Hanson French and John O'Leary rehearse "View From a Hummingbird Heart." Photo: Tom Kramer.

The collaborative spirit is alive and well in St. Petersburg, and will be on full display Friday at Beacon, the annual mixed-repertoire dance concert at the Palladium Theater.

It’s the first live-onstage edition of Beacon since 2019. “After Covid, I feel like this is such a relief, such a joy,” says dancer Helen Hansen French, co-founder of the Beacon project.

French will herself perform “View From a Hummingbird Heart,” created by Paula Kramer. Joining her, live onstage, will be pianist/composer John O’Leary, playing the Palladium’s Steinway Grand.

“This year, live music just seemed super-important to me, personally,” French explains. “Live music and dance so naturally go together.

“There’s a constant give-and-take between the two of us, and some interaction. It’s a dream … having live music, in my opinion, is really how it should be.

“It’s definitely an intentional look at how we can get more artists on the stage. More artists working together is always at the forefront of Beacon. We’re always thinking about that.”

With the Mickett/Stackhouse projection. Photo: Tom Kramer.

A manipulated projection behind them will show “Ruby’s Heart,” a detail from a sculpture by Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse. “It has a life, if you will,” French says.

O’Leary, who’s part of the local jazz group La Lucha, has written a new piece of music for his work with French and choreographer Kramer. “The spirit of collaboration is really amazing when you have the right type of people,” he says. “Who are willing to listen and to also adjust, depending on their needs. It’s beautiful.

“We all say what we’re looking for in different sections and what we need. And we all kind of adjust to each other. There’s a democracy that happens there – as well as the opportunity with brilliant artists that are willing to put their work there.”

O’Leary has worked with dance artists before – specifically, with both French and Kramer, and in collaboration with the University of South Florida Department of Dance.

He says he loves the challenge.

“It’s not quite like when collaborate in jazz, in real time. When the tune starts, and you don’t have a choice but to react to what the other person is putting out there.

“(Here) you can stop during rehearsal and say ‘What did you think of that section there?’ There’s a lot more crafting than you have in a traditional improvisational setting, or playing with people you’ve never played with before.”

The longest piece on the Beacon program is “SHIFT(ed),” choreographed by Alexander Jones and performed by members of his Project Alchemy company (including Jones), with live soundscapes created by minusminus (aka James Curran).

It’s the second iteration of a work the company (and Curran) debuted a month ago at thestudio@620, where Jones is resident choreographer. It’s been significantly re-worked for the expansive Palladium space.

Beacon ’19: French and Alexander Jones. Photo by Tom Kramer.

Jones believes Beacon “is a good way to introduce the community to local dance entities – ‘There is dance talent in St. Pete, and these are the people who are creating work.’”

Opines French: “Alex has this very open and generous personality, but he has a clear viewpoint, on the art that he likes to make and encourage. And so his voice is an important one as an artist, and what he does for the community.”

Curran, who moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 2021 (“But I’ll fly anywhere to do some cool stuff”) is a musician, although this is more like electronic “sound generation” and action/reaction.

“I’d known of him, and had been wanting to work with him,” Jones says. “We did a dance film during Covid, with Rebecca Lazaridis and Joey Clay, and then we crafted ‘SHIFT’ – and now he’s the director of music for Project Alchemy. We’ll be doing a lot more collaborations in the future.”

James Curran. Facebook.

The process, explains Curran, was organic.

“We actually started with text, with some prose,” he says. “Getting the idea formulated from Alex was pretty abstract at first, from our first few conversations. He would write like 10 or 12 words, not like exactly poems but words that had cohesion around a theme.

“Then I took that text and would come up with ideas, you know? What does it mean to feel like you’re pulled, but you’re resisting it? What’s the human experience of that – and how do I translate that into sound? We did a lot of iterations using that process – text, then sound, then dance.”

Friday’s Beacon program also includes works by Caleb Baker, Sharon McCaman, Christine Acosta and more than a dozen bay area dancers. Tickets and information are here.




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