Lucy Bowen McCauley loves to take risks with music.
From the head-banging riffs of D.C. post-punkers Tone (earplugs included) to the contemporary classicism of Viennese composer Wolfgang Seierl to the lyrical words of former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove, the Arlington choreographer finds inspiration in some unlikely places.
“A lot of my friends are musicians, and people feed me music,” McCauley says. “I have a lot of different sources.”
This weekend, the contemporary dance company that McCauley founded 15 years ago returns to the Kennedy Center, and the program highlights the many musical personalities of the onetime piano and cello student.
Among the notable works, “Time and Clouds” features a challenging score for cello, violin, electric guitar and percussion accompanied by a soprano whose voice has been described as cackling. “It’s the so-called contemporary new music,” says composer Seierl, adding that he was inspired by Viennese poet Ferdinand Schmatz, who was fascinated by Japanese culture.
Seierl wrote the piece without a continuous time signature, which means the dancers have no traditional musical counts to follow or to cue them. “ ‘Time and Clouds’ is very difficult,” says dancer Alvaro Palau. “We basically had to go through the music and try to find landmarks.” But, he says, “there’s a freshness in the music, and I try to keep the feeling of that.”
“Ozone,” a world premiere, was inspired by Dove’s poem of the same name. The poet, who teaches at the University of Virginia, will read “Ozone” while the dancers perform McCauley’s piece, which wrestles with global warming.
“As a poet one of the things that distinguishes poetry from the other literary arts is in fact the way that [poetry] is borne out of rhythms,” says Dove, who discovered ballroom dancing a few years ago and dances almost daily in a studio that she and her husband built in their Charlottesville home. “What makes a poem feel different than prose is how it engages us on a musical level, a rhythmic level. A line of poetry dictates how you breathe as you say it, and that’s what connects us physically to a poem. . . . I see no great division between the rhythms of a poem and interpreting that through the body in dance.”
This is the first time McCauley has found choreographic inspiration in poetry. “In Rita’s work there are tempos, pauses, breaths,” she says, “and when she reads along . . . her words become the song.”
Dove herself relishes the collaboration among composer, choreographer and poet.
“What’s important is that this is a sharing. We will listen to each other, and when I say listen, I mean all of the dancers will listen with their bodies,” she says. “We will be listening to each other and making this piece work together as we go. This is what art should be doing: We should be pushing our borders and our boundaries as much as we can.”
Traiger is a freelance writer.
Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center,
2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600.