Seattle Dance Project and Simple Measures aim to make chamber music and dance accessible with 'Earth,' a talky program that draws on Beethoven and The Beatles.

Performance review |

Music and dance and talk — a lot of talk.

“Earth,” the new collaboration between Seattle Dance Project and chamber ensemble Simple Measures, has a laudable idea behind it: to make the high arts more accessible to the uninitiated by discussing the similarities between, say, a Beatles tune and a passage from a Beethoven quartet.

The audience that “Earth” attracted to Madrona Dance Studio on Friday, however, looked pretty initiated already. Did they need to be cajoled into appreciating an excerpt from Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 18, No. 5? Or were they frustrated at not getting the whole thing?

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Count me among the frustrated.

Simple Measures, led by cellist Rajan Krishnaswami, has a warm, lush sound that filled out the small quarters of the studio beautifully. It would have been a treat to hear them tackle the entire piece.

But there was other business at hand. Along with highlighting Beatles/Beethoven affinities (and doing the same for Andrea Gabrieli and the Rolling Stones), the ensemble served up string quartet/guitar/drums instrumental transcriptions of Beatles and Stones tunes that served as backdrop to two dance premieres.

First up was Betsy Cooper’s “In Another Land,” a five-movement suite in which the title number, a duet for Susan Gladstone and Oleg Gorboulev, was the most successful item, oscillating between courtly propriety and cavalier tussle. (The song, by Bill Wyman rather than Jagger-Richards, comes from the Stones’ psychedelic-troubadours phase.) Other passages were less successfully tied to the music.

The Beatles suite, “Because,” by former Oregon Ballet Theatre artistic director James Canfield, had stronger ideas and, frankly, better musical material to work with. Tim Lynch (co-director of SDP) and Michele Curtis made sad, swaying patterns of connection and disconnection to George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Lynch shone too in a solo to Lennon/McCartney’s “Yesterday.”

Still, the start-and-stop nature of the program diluted its effect. And the choice to use such familiar music felt problematic, too. The words weren’t sung, but most of the audience was of an age to know them by heart. It was tempting to look at the dance as a commentary on the absent lyrics — a commentary that wasn’t really there.

Final verdict: The music doesn’t need this much help and the dance could use a little something more.

Michael Upchurch: