Itamar Kubovy of modern dance troupe, ‘Pilobolus,’ discusses fascinating footwork and Celebrity Series of Boston return

Ever since Celebrity Series of Boston’s annual, free season opener Let’s Dance Boston at Dewey Square on September 13 featuring dancers that brought the audience to its feet, the 2017-18 has been a non-stop celebration.  Adding to the excitement from Friday, October 27 through Sunday, October 29, international modern dance troupe, Pilobolus, returns to Boston to share their distinctive, always fascinating moves in Pilobolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Celebrity Series of Boston - PIL-MAX-KEY-ART

Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson/Celebrity Series of Boston

Pilobolus has taken the stage in over sixty countries and thrilled audiences with television appearances at the Academy Awards, the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Olympics as well as made film appearances in Little Miss Sunshine, The Devil Wears Prada and Snakes on a Plane.  Executive Producer of Pilobolus, Itamar Kubovy, discussed Pilobolus’s fascinating footwork, its unique name, and the troupe’s love for Boston.

Sleepless Critic:  This is your 12th performance with Celebrity Series of Boston.  You must know Boston pretty well.

Itamar Kubovy:  We love performing in Boston and that’s not just lip service. We’ve always found our audience to teach us a huge amount about our work. The laughs, gasps, and paper rattling teach us about the work we are making.  In Boston, we encounter a crowd that makes us better at what we do and allows us to sharpen our performances.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘Branches’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

 SC:  Pilobolus is named after speedy barnyard fungus.  In the dance, I can see the symbolism behind the name.  Is there an interesting story behind it?

IK:  Jonathan Wolken, the co-founder who named the company, had a scientist dad studying the Pilobolus fungus in his biology lab, an organism about ¼ of an inch tall that grows in cow dung and has a large eye at its tip that always leans toward light. When the time is right to reproduce, the fungus shoots its head off of its body at the fastest acceleration known in nature. This alacrity and attraction to the light inspired Jonathan to name their first dance and the fledgling company after the phototropic fungus.

SC:  It seems like a quite a physically demanding job for these dancers.  What kind of routine keeps the dancers in shape and how do they best prepare for a performance?

IK:  When our dancers are in the studio, they work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. They are lifting each other and working with tremendous physical intensity for close to 40 hours a week. The additional prep involves body maintenance, stretching, group work, and yoga.  Regarding the prep right before the show, we warm-up with an open curtain so the audience coming in watches the dancers move on the stage.  Both the audience and dancers need some time to prepare and we try to share that time. It makes the show all the more exciting when the lights go down.

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International dance troupe, Pilobolus in Pilibolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance   Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson

SC:  I imagine live performances and sometimes dangerous stunts can hold some surprises every once in a while.

IK:  They do, but the work these people do together day in and day out really limits the risk based on the trust they build between one another. Most importantly, these dancers know how to instantly adjust when something goes wrong. While we certainly have our moments of injury, we have a great deal of confidence going into every show.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘On the Nature of Things’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

SC:  Improvising is invaluable.  How is trust developed between other members of the group?

IK:  Trust is mysterious, but there is no doubt in my mind that the physical giving of one’s weight and balance to another person, literally putting yourself entirely in their hands over and over again speeds that process up.  Some of the principals in which our process is based is the human physical connection by sharing, giving, and taking weight.  Trust is a powerful by-product of caring touch.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘Echo in the Valley’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

Pilobolus Maximus:  Beyond the Limits of Dance will take the Boch Center Shubert Theatre stage at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Friday, October 27 through 29, as part of their national tour.  A free, post artist performance artist talk moderated by Peter DiMuro of the Dance Complex will be held on opening night. Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston, their full schedule, and how to support them during their 79th season.  Learn more about their season and get updates through Facebook and Twitter.

Flutist Sarah Paysnick delves into Grand Harmonie’s rollicking ‘March Madness’ concerts

For a musician, choosing the right instrument is the key to success.  For Grand Harmonie flutist and co-founder Sarah Paysnick, family and Sesame Street played a big part in her choosing the right one.  When a group of successful musicians got together to pursue something new and exciting, the innovative and eclectic music ensemble, Grand Harmonie was born.

Grand Harmonie group pic

Grand Harmonie in action Photo courtesy of Sarah Paysnick

Grand Harmonie will deliver March Madness, two exciting and inventive concerts that mixes a little bit of everything.  Featuring conductor Scott Allen Jarrett and soprano Jacquelyn Stucker with horn by Yoni Kahn, March Madness kicks off on Friday, March 24 at Arts at the Armory in Somerville, Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m.  On Sunday, March 26, March Madness will take the stage at the Second Church of Newton in West Newton, Massachusetts at 3 p.m.

Grand Harmonie Scott Allen Jarrett conductor

Grand Harmonie conductor Scott Allen Jarrett Photo courtesy of Scott Allen Jarrett

Sarah Paysnick discusses her music career, Grand Harmonie’s educational outreach, the excitement behind Grand Harmonie, and a closer look into March Madness.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Jeanne Denizard:  What first sparked your interest in music and what inspired you to pursue it as a music career?

Sarah Paysnick:  In kindergarten, many of my friends started learning piano.  They would teach me what they were learning, so I begged my mom for piano lessons. I remember wanting to quit after a short time, but my mom told me I had to finish the year. A few years later, many of my friends started learning string instruments.  I have a cousin my age that played the violin and she’d teach me when we got together. When I told my mom I also wanted violin lessons, she said that I have two cousins who play the violin and I should pick something else. Watching Bob on Sesame Street and because another cousin was learning it, I decided on the flute.

In 4th grade, when asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said I wanted to be a cantor because Judaism and music were important to me.  I didn’t have proper training as a singer.  Something told me, over the next few years, it would exclusively become a music career even though Judaism is still important to me. I never really thought about doing anything outside of music, though my music path has taken me in a variety of directions.  Ultimately, it led me to historical performance on flutes and teaching piano to children.

JD:  How did you become a founding member of Grand Harmonie and what do you enjoy most about this group?

SP:  I knew Yoni Kahn, our horn player and soloist for this concert!  With Yoni Kahn and a couple of other founding members, we were interested in starting something new and exciting. Though my favorite music to perform falls a bit earlier than Grand Harmonie’s core repertoire, I am constantly inspired by my colleagues who push me every day to be a better musician and honored to be an organizing member of the kind of ensemble people enjoy working with. Everyone has such a positive, generous attitude and it’s infectious!

Yoni Kahn Horn

Yani Kahn, horn Photo courtesy of Grand Harmonie

JD:  Grand Harmonie is very versatile and can transform from a symphony orchestra to an opera orchestra, or even become a chamber ensemble.  Is the unexpected part of what sets Grand Harmonie apart from other groups?

SP:  Yes, Grand Harmonie is a bit of a moving target.  People attempt to put us into a box and we don’t fit into one.  Every performance is different, but it also makes anything possible!

JD:  Grand Harmonie will be touring through Somerville and Newton on March 24 and 26 for March Madness.  Is this Grand Harmonie’s first time performing March Madness?  Where did the idea come from?

SP:  This is our first time doing this performance as well as splitting up the movements of a symphony and sprinkling them throughout a concert. In the 19th century, performances were quite different than they are today. Maybe a full symphony wasn’t performed or it was performed in its entirety but not straight through.  Perhaps a small chamber ensemble gave listeners a break from the big symphonic sound or a soprano would delight everyone with her beautiful voice.

Grand Harmonie Jacquelyn Stucker Soprano

Jacquelyn Stucker, soprano for March Madness Photo courtesy of Jacquelyn Stucker

These concerts were a social event and audiences didn’t remain silent as they think they are expected to today. Grand Harmonie wants to break the tension and allow people to clap when they want to, explore the space around them, and enjoy the concert without fear of getting stared down if they clap at the wrong moment or make a noise during the music.

On Friday night, the cash bar at the Somerville Armory will be open all night. Through a generous donation from Aeronaut Brewing Company, the first 30 ticket purchasers will receive one free beer!  On Sunday in Newton, we encourage people to relax and enjoy themselves, but the concert will not include alcohol and will be a more traditional performance.

JD:  This concert will be a particularly intimate and uplifting concert experience since it will take place in-the-round. Additionally, Grand Harmonie will deliver classical pieces in an entirely unique and rollicking way. Putting something like that together must have been a lot of fun.

SP:  Friday’s show is a really exciting experiment in how to make a “classical” concert more accessible and we can’t wait to experience it with our audience! Sunday’s show will be more traditional with the audience in pews and the orchestra in front, but we still expect it will be a rollicking good time!

JD:  For March Madness, Grand Harmonie weaves Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber into one big concert.  You have a unique way of breaking up Beethoven’s First Symphony during this “in the round” concert experience.

SP:  It may sound unique to split up a symphony today but this was not unusual in the 19th century! Sometimes even a single movement was chosen for a particular program.

JD:  Grand Harmonie also participates in educational outreach.  Please tell me about that.

SP:  Grand Harmonie has given master classes at the Longy School of Music at Bard College, MIT, and Harvard, among others. We have also given informational lecture/demonstrations at MIT and Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library. We love sharing what we’ve learned with musicians and music enthusiasts young and old!  Audience members are very curious about our instruments and we are happy to engage with them.

JD:   A few Grand Harmonie concerts are coming up before the end of the season.  Please tell me about Grand Harmonie’s future plans.

SP:  March Madness is the official close of our season, but we have plenty coming up!  We will be performing Haydn’s The Creation with Edward Jones and the Harvard University Choir and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 Lobgesang with Edward Jones and the Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus. We have loved working with Ed at least once a year since we began and it’s fair to say we have a mutual admiration for each other.  In NYC, we will be partnering with On Site Opera to perform a wind octet Harmonie arrangement of Mozart’s The Secret Gardener by our own Yoni Kahn on horn and Thomas Carroll on clarinet. Also, keep an eye out for us during the Boston Early Music Festival the second week in June!

Grand Harmonie Group photo

Grand Harmonie group Photo courtesy of Hannah Shields

Click here for all of Grand Harmonie’s upcoming concerts and here for more on Grand Harmonie’s educational outreach.  Follow Grand Harmonie on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and more.