Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet Balances Music and Movement

The company appears this weekend at the Luckman with two classical interpretations

“Dance is a special language, and perhaps the deepest language we have,” says choreographer Raiford Rogers. “When music and dance are at their most concentrated form, it creates a powerful expression.” Watch the two art forms converge Saturday night, July 18, when Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet performs at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State L.A.

On the program is the world premiere of Still Life, set to an original score by Czech composer Zbynek Mateju, and Schubert’s Silence, set to Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 18 Fantasie in G major.

We spoke with Rogers about his creative process.

How does Zbynek Mateju’s music complement your choreography for Still Life?
Mateju’s music is complex and abstract—there is no story. My goal as a choreographer in Still Life is to uncover the inner narrative of his score. I’m seeking to express the feeling of the music, or psychology, into movement.

What does your piece depict?
The dynamics, tempo, and mood of the music constantly shift. We are using 11 dancers. The costumes are simple cyan blue leotards by Yumiko. The set design is a projection of photographs of winter wood (branches) by photographer Ed Evans. Ed took over 3,000 photos this past winter on the island of Whidbey, north of Seattle. The branches against a white winter sky look like ink drawings. There is no story or theme. The purpose of my work is to explore the idea that dance itself can embody sound without the dogma of subjective interpretation. The intent of Still Life is to visualize the imaginative idea of the score without superimposing an artificial narrative.

How did Franz Schubert’s piano sonata inspire you for Schubert’s Silence?
The role of the dancer in this piece was to exist as a neutral instrument in order to “voice” the music—akin to the way the pages of a book disappear in literature. The challenge is to make the music, not the dance, visible.

How did you achieve that?
The tempo is very slow. The mood is reflective and mysterious. The dancer’s responsibility is to “sing” through movement, the music. The silences in this piece are powerful. My goal was to parallel the music’s emotional arc. We are using 11 dancers, and the costumes are simple Yumiko leotards in gray.

Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet, July 18 at 8 p.m., Luckman Fine Arts Complex