Published on January 24, 2022 by Jonathan Gramling | Share this post!
Third Coast Percussion was glad to take its collaborative program Metamorphosis on tour to Madison, WI. Thanks to the team at Capital City Hues for this great interview with TCP Ensemble Member/Executive Director David Skidmore, and movement artist Quentin Robinson.
On the one hand, you have the Third Coast Percussion, a classically-trained group of percussionists who trained at Northwestern University and are based in Chicago. On the other hand, you have Movement Art Is, a group of popping dancers who began learning their art on the streets. And when you bring them together in an artistic presentation at the Wisconsin Union Theater on January 27th, you get “Metamorphosis.”
“GRAMMY-winning percussion quartet Third Coast Percussion and renowned dance organization Movement Art Is will combine and celebrate U.S. street dancing styles and classical percussion ensemble music as they explore the questions of: what does the world look like to you, and how do where you’re from and your experiences shape that,” said a Wisconsin Union press release. “Through “Metamorphosis,” they work to collaboratively illustrate universal themes cast through the experiential lens of young Black men growing up in America today.”
On some levels, these artistic groups, on the surface, are from different artistic worlds. The Third Coast Artists were trained on the music and Beethoven. But classical music isn’t necessarily Beethoven’s classical music anymore.
“The people who are writing classical music today focus heavily on percussion,” said Third Coast Percussion’s David Skidmore. “And classical music is often thought of as preserving a past of music that is done and passed down. But our music is alive and changing every day. We’re constantly having people write us music. We’re constantly writing our own new music. We’re a bit of an anomaly because we come from this way of playing music and studying music and rehearsing music. But the music that we play is by people who studied it one way, but are composing it today as part of contemporary culture and also people who make music in very different ways. For instance, in the show that we are bringing to Madison, we’ve got music by Philip Glass, who is among the most revered very classical composers of today. There is also music by Jlin. It’s one of her very first works of classical music. She has written primarily up to now electronic dance music. But she is a musician whom we came to know because she writes incredibly exciting and intricate rhythmic music. And once you look at the genre on Spotify, there is a theme. It’s exciting. It’s unexpected and very rhythmic and very, very musical.”
And the artists of Movement Art Is came up through the streets.
“Being able to mimic I watched the video called ‘Breaking’ when I was younger,” said Movement Art Is’ Quentin Robinson. “And I was kind of thrown into a dance circle growing up after school one day. I was tossed into the middle because my brother knew I could do it. And from there, almost the same group of people I’ve been dancing with, I’m dancing with today also, at least some of them. I just found my passion there with movement.”
While these performing art groups may seem to be from different worlds, they are bound together by artistic excellence and the desire to explore the infinite possibilities of where their artistic art forms take them together.
Actually the biggest distance to overcome has been the pandemic and the “distance” that created.
“We actually feel very fortunate because this production was put together in the summer of 2020, which of course was a really difficult time to do anything let alone get different performing artists from different states all over the country to put together a show,” Skidmore said. “But we had a great partner, the University of Washington provided time. They were originally going to provide space, but they couldn’t do that, so they provided us with the means to get all of the artists together and create the show. We did it in our respective locations. We did a ton of cell phone videos and recordings that were sent back and forth. We had zoom meetings to plot through the show and how it was coming together. In addition to the choreographers, Jon Boogz and Lil Buck and the dancers, there were also the composers of the music that we are playing and the stage director who helped us shape the direction of the show and the lighting designer who was clearly working in his home office creating computer renderings of what the light would look like when we would safely be able to get on a stage. Putting this show together was fun, but it was a real challenge.”
In November 2020, the performers, lighting folks and others came together for the first time.
“We had the opportunity to come up with a storyline with hard points to hit during the actual show,” Robinson said. “Saying that every single movement is choreographed, that’s impossible for what we do. David, just as well as anyone seeing us up there, you may see something and go, ‘Oh, that’s fresh. That’s new. What’s up?’ And keep going, but we’ll still stay within those parameters of story and the authenticity of it and just making sure we hit those points and making sure the story is the thing. You just make it a different motion, but the same story is being told. I feel that is the beauty of it. When we are given the music, it’s like, ‘Here’s the choreography. Here’s you. Here’s the choreography. Here’s you.’ We’re able to bounce in and out and just create and collaborate in that way. And then we met David and the entire crew, it was even crazier because now you see their motions. You see how they’re moving once we actually got on stage with them and did the text. And then once the show came, it was another level up. I got thrown off. I was like, ‘They’ve been hiding that entire time until show time. Whoa what is coming up?’ There’s a pop and everyone is gliding across the stage. And the next instrument happens. It turns into something real special. Building up to it, at least for me, is always a fun process because I love storytelling while I move. It was the perfect setting.”
In part, it is the flexibility of each group within their own genres — and sometimes outside of it — that allows them to come together and create something fresh.
“With popping music, you’re not going to see a contemporary dancer freestyling to a popping song by Zapp & Roger,” Robinson said. “I feel that popping in itself, we are able to walk that line between every genre of music. I’ve danced to every genre of music, jungle, rock, metal, everything. I’ve danced to all of it. I feel like colliding with Third Coast when it comes down to style, the different sounds and textures and moods and lighting and everything that comes across, with popping, we are able to put movement to those sounds because there are so many different textures of movement in popping. There are so many tones in popping. And so the multiple sounds you hear, there is a movement that goes with each one of them. I think that is why when you hear Third Coast and then you see my style in an original environment, you would dare think to put those two together. You wouldn’t dare to think to put them together until you put those two together.”
The artists are grateful to be coming out of the virtual world to perform live.
“It is amazing to see anything right now, to be able to go somewhere and see performing artists,” Skidmore said. “It’s not something that I will ever take for granted again after being locked up for 1-2 years. I will say from the performer side, each show feels so special. It always does. You always want it to be that way. But there is something extra right now because of what we’ve all been through the last couple of years.”
“It is special especially with the cancellations and then it turns into if it gets cancelled, we don’t know if it is ever going to exist again,” Robinson added. “We get to go out and do it? Okay, what do you mean? Everyone is going to have to sit two seats apart and you can only have 100 people there? That’s fine, bring them in anyway. There’s three people in the building, let’s do it. It’s one of those things where I agree 100 percent.”