Metro Weekly

Scottish Ensemble and Andersson Dance put a fresh spin on Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”

Kennedy Center offers a new take on Bach's classical music

Andersson Dance and Scottish Ensemble in Goldberg Variations — Photo: Hugh Carswell

“One of the things that makes this show quite unusual is that the musicians and the dancers are kind of mixed together,” says Jonathan Morton. “We share the stage and we’re equal partners.”

Morton is discussing a new collaboration between the Scottish Ensemble and Andersson Dance, a novel chamber-dance piece set to Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

“Usually when you have music and dance together, the musicians tend to be quite static,” he says. “They tend to be in one area of the stage or in the pit, and then the dancers are doing their stuff onstage.”

When Morton, who serves as Scottish Ensemble’s artistic director, was first approached about pairing with the Swedish dance company, he had reservations. “What the hell are we going to be asked to do?” he recalls wondering. “This could be really embarrassing.” But choreographer Örjan Andersson quickly put him at ease.

“Örjan was a great choice…because he likes working with people who basically don’t really know what they’re doing, physically speaking,” Morton says. “As soon as we started working on it, it became clear that Örjan was just brilliant at making people feel at ease and just developing our confidence.”

Andersson Dance and Scottish Ensemble in Goldberg Variations — Photo: Hugh Carswell

This weekend, the two companies present the D.C. debut of the work, which has been staged multiple times since its 2015 premiere in Sweden. Featuring 11 string musicians and five professional dancers, it’s proven more popular than either expected — and Morton attributes the success partly to Andersson’s informal staging. “The audience kind of feels very relaxed and invited into this production. It’s not at all…intimidating or forbidding,” he says, noting that the musicians are not trained dancers, which in turn makes them more relatable. “I think it just helps to bring it down and make it more approachable.”

Morton also credits Andersson’s fresh take on Bach’s work — and a “surprising” amount of humor — with that approachability. “It’s allowed people who are not necessarily into just listening to the music or who didn’t know the piece…to discover it through a different route.”

Goldberg Variations – ternary patterns for insomnia will be performed Thursday, April 26, and Friday, April 27, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, April 28, at 2 and 8 p.m. Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $29 to $89. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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