This weekend’s Ne(xt)works’ Music Without Dance—a multi-event festival focusing on recent and historical musical works originally created to be heard with choreographed movement—was the perfect excuse to interview Joan La Barbara and talk about dance, as well as Phase Two of Storefront Diva…
Your name is usually associated with a life-long relationship with voice but you have also written extensively for dance. What led you to do so?
I love dance. In fact, as a child I wanted to be a dancer but my mother read an article about ballerina’s bloody toes and decided not to let me study dance. She gave me piano and art lessons instead.
Anyway, I have watched a great deal of dance over the years and have been particularly influenced by Merce Cunningham’s independent moving of dancers in space (which I reflected in my work “Autumn Signal” as I moved the sounds around in space), and also his attitude that whichever way the dancers were facing was front (again, reflected in some of my sound sculpture works). I was very, very fortunate in 1976 to be invited to play my music with Merce in an Events evening. Ned Rothernberg and Peter Zummo were working with me at the time and we did several of my ensemble works as well as some of the solo material. The way the “Events” worked was that Merce told the composer how much time to provide music for, and he allocated sections of his dances to fit that time. I remember that just as I began to sing “Circular Song”, Merce began a solo, edging forward carefully one foot at a time, then pulling it back and making sudden gesture flurries with his hands. It was thrilling.