Categories: THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Malashock Dance & Art of Élan present High Strung

Article by Siena Beacham

June 1, 2019
Malashock dancers impressively exploring partner work. Photo credit: Ryan Beck

High Strung, a collaborative performance by Malashock Dance and The Art of Élan debuted at the iconic Lyceum Theatre last Friday evening. Talented dancers explored the theme of relationship through movement as the Kontras Quartet string ensemble delivered a musical expression of the same.

John Malashock, Founding Artistic Director of Malashock Dance Company, provided personal insight about his creative process and intention that bring a depth of meaning to this work of art.

Vanguard Culture: Can you share a bit about your career in the arts and culture industry?

John Malashock: As for my career, I’ve had an amazing 45 years in the arts field, so far, and I have gotten to play seriously in a huge variety of places and mix dance with just about every other artistic discipline. My performing career in New York and Europe was extraordinary. Sustaining a dance company here in San Diego for 30 years has been a bit miraculous. Getting the opportunity to mix dance with opera, theater, film, television, symphony, chamber music, photography, and other visual arts have been what sustains my life.

Left to Right: John Malashock – Malashock Dance, Kate Hatmaker – Art of Élan, Kontras Quartet
Photo credit: Gary Payne

John founded Malashock Dance as a non-profit organization in 1988 after an extensive performance career. The company has earned top awards including six Emmy awards for dance films. It has produced over 100 original dance works, many collaborations and serves over 5,00 students each year through it’s community outreach program.

Vanguard Culture: How did you develop the idea for the collaboration between Malashock and Art of Élan?

John Malashock: I love the musical aesthetic of Art of Élan. Their programming is adventurous, yet rooted in what makes people love, and relate to, music. That is how I approach dance – to make it meaningful, stimulating, and relatable. Amazing live music and dance just belong together. We recognized a perfect collaborative fit. High Strung is all about shifting the context of artwork, to give the audiences a unique and surprising experience. We will perform the new choreography to vastly different pieces of music, so people can see how their own perceptions completely change their experience.

Vanguard Culture: How will High Strung compare to Lifeblood Harmony & Minor Fall/Major Lift?

John Malashock: I have absolutely loved our previous collaborations with Art of Élan, but High Strung is more risk-taking and unpredictable (in a good way)!

As mentioned above, the two organizations have collaborated before. Lifeblood Harmony was performed at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2014 and Minor Fall/Major Lift at the Lyceum Theatre in 2017. Art of Élan was created by the talented violinist Kate Hatmaker and flutist Demarre McGill. The unique chamber music organization partners with many prominent museums in the city. The list includes, but is not limited to, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (MCASD), the San Diego Art Institute, and A Reason to Survive (ARTS). The engaging musical group continues to produce diverse works in true alignment with their name, which means momentum, vigor, and spirit.

Kontras Quartet, the 4 person string ensemble is comprised of Eleanor Bartch (violin), Francois Henkins (violin), Ben Weber (viola) and Jean Hatmaker (cello). CVNC Arts Journal has written that the ensemble is admired for their “superlative artistry” and the Gramophone Magazine applauds their “crisp precision.” These are just a few examples of the stellar press the Kontras Quartet has received. Their international recognition has landed them tours of South Africa and Switzerland as well as all over the United States.

Vanguard Culture: What would you say is the central purpose, intention of this unique collaborative dance and string quartet performance?

John Malashock: The heart and soul of High Strung are how, as artists, we are taking risks that provide people the opportunity to experience those exhilarating risks along with us. Like the way, an entire crowd will have their hearts skip a beat while watching an acrobat doing daring acts.

Vanguard Culture: What are your favorite moments from the preparation of this show and why is it important to you personally to choreograph this performance?

John Malashock: One of my favorite things in choreographing a show like this is seeing the way the dancers intuitively begin ‘attaching’ the movement to the music. I don’t decide what happens to every single beat of the music. The dancers are the ones who will perform the work and, when they make their own sense of my movement, it makes me feel understood on a very deep level.

When asked to elaborate on the rehearsal process further and explain what it was like to collaborate with the musicians, dancers and everyone else involved, Malashock used the word “intense!” He said it took months to develop the idea but only 4 weeks of actual practice. The intention of the project is clear yet he shares that regardless of how many artists were involved in the creation of the show, it is “an incredibly intimate and personal experience for the audience,”

The Lyceum Theatre provided just that, an intimate setting, where members of the audience were close enough to the performers that they could hear the pattern of feet on the stage as the dancers moved through the music. Among many other things, High Strung was an impressive and athletic work of art.  Partners often lifted their fellow dancers high in the sky, holding the full weight of their body.

Vanguard Culture: Could you please share more about your signature partnering work, which highlights the intimate a relatable relationships between the dancers?

John Malashock: Partnering work, for me, is the best way to show different ways of being human. Most of us see the world through experiences shared with someone else. Nothing is more relatable than personal relationships, yet I find the variety of those relationships absolutely endless. The trust and intimacy of challenging partner work make for a palpable experience in a beautifully charged environment.

Vanguard Culture: What benefits do you believe that collaboration brings to the City of San Diego?

John Malashock: I have always found that like-minded artistic collaborators can create something that goes WAY beyond the separate individual efforts. People here get to experience a truly heightened artistic expression, and our peers around the country take notice when wonderful artists work and create together.  

Vanguard Culture: What are the plans for the future of this collaboration?  Will we see more work from Malashock and Art of Élan together again? How would you like to reimagine it or what new ideas would you like to bring to the table in the future?

John Malashock: I would love to find a way for Malashock Dance and Art of Élan to take a show on the road.

About Malashock Dance:
Malashock Dance promotes dance as an avenue for personal expression through participation, education, and artistic collaboration.
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About Art of Elan:
The mission of Art of Élan is to enrich the cultural life of San Diego by presenting exciting and exceptional chamber music concerts to the general public, simultaneously educating and exposing diverse audiences to classical music through innovative programming, the commissioning of new works, unique performance venues and personal connections with concertgoers. Learn More:

About Kontras Quartet:
Formed while the group’s members were string principals in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Kontras Quartet began pursuing a professional career in 2009. Kontras enjoyed immediate recognition, holding their own against seasoned string quartets from around the country to win a four-year chamber music residency with the Western Piedmont Symphony in North Carolina, a full-time position established through Chamber Music America’s Residency Partnership Program. The quartet has received continued training with the Vermeer and Julliard String Quartets.
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Vanguard Culture

Vanguard Culture is an online media entity designed for culturally savvy, socially conscious individuals. We provide original interviews and reviews of the people, places, and events that make up San Diego’s thriving arts and culture community, as well as curated snapshots of the week’s best, most inspiring and unique cultural and culinary events. We believe in making a difference in the world, supporting San Diego’s vibrant visual and performing arts community and bringing awareness to important social and community causes.