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Behind the Scenes: An Interview with Brian Barrale

Brian BarraleBrian Barrale is the man behind the music of Stretch Dance Co.’s Bells and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies videos (be sure to check them out if you haven’t had a chance!).  Brian took a moment from preparing for his tour to talk about his process for creating music for Stretch.  You can find out more about him on his website at: http://www.brianbarrale.com/ and be sure to check out his music from the Stretch Dance videos on iTunes.

Was this the first time you composed for a dance?  How does it differ from when you compose on your own? 

It was great.  Most often, I have done work for hire or commission. I’ve definitely done cabaret shows where I’ve composed songs for more of a one-woman or one-man show, and  I’ve also done original musicals and short vignettes that had choreography involved.  Lyndell gave me a broad scope of what her vision was, but she also gave me a lot of room to experiment.  She gave me specific outlines, the backbone of what she wanted.  But she also let me be who I am and let me go deep with what I had in  mind. She was wonderful to collaborate with.

 Sugar Plum Fairies

Do you compose music differently when you know you’re composing for dancers? 

I’m used to being told what to do and what’s expected.  Lyndell just gave me some specifics, and let me go at it with that in mind.  I had just bought a new computer at that time, and I wanted to experiment with a fresh set of sounds.  So I bought a whole set of orchestra specifically for the project. I wanted to experiment that fresh set of sounds.

 

You bought…a fresh set of sounds? 

(Laughs) Yes, but don’t tell Lyndell!  (Interviewer’s note: whoops).  As an electronic composer, I do compose with live instruments, but when it comes to an orchestra, I don’t always have live music.  I use sample libraries—my go-to is CineSamples.  It hooks up with your electronic keyboard, so when you press a key on the board, you can actually play snippets of an actual orchestra.  Everything worked out wonderfully, so much so that I actually put it on iTunes and it actually hit number 13 on the Holiday music chart.

 

Do you always use sample libraries, or is this something you did so you could get the orchestral effect for the videos? 

Sample libraries are my palate—that’s where I go to create.  You know how Jerry Seinfeld only uses 9×12 legal pads to write his stuff?  I use sample libraries when I’m doing music.  I’ll start with the electronic version first, even if I know I will have a live orchestra.  That’s because I have worked for film, TV, and video games, and they want to have the closest thing to what it will sound like as a final product.  That is my go-to way of composing.

 

Beyond Cinesamples and Lyndell, was there anything else that inspired you while working on the music?  Was there a difference for your Dark Bell Carol and Viscous Plum Faeries? 

First of all, the “Dark Bell Carol” was based on Carol of the Bells.  I took the traditional Ukrainian bells and worked off of that.  Traditionally “Carol of the Bells” has no lyrics, so I wanted to work the sounds of the bells.  And then I added the middle section which was really dark and agitated section and explored the string sections—I really wanted to get the scratchy textured sound.

(You can hear what he’s talking about around 1:09)

As for Viscous Plum Faeries – that was very much directly inspired by the score for Coraline, specifically the end credits. It had that a very fast and staccato plucked sound.  And–you’re going to love this–the driving force for the beat was that I used one of the plastic water bottles, like you would find at at an office, and used the end of a drum stick to get the sound that I wanted.  It’s a very soft, but aggressive ba baba ba bum bump bumpos (Interviewer’s note: I tried to capture the sound effect).

Speaking of Viscous Fairies, that’s such an interesting name.   What made you choose it? 

The word viscous has stuck with me since I learned it.  Ha!  It’s this thick gooey black dark, evil gross kind of thing, and that’s what I was going for in the music.

 

Stretch Dance Co. sends out a huge thank you to Brian for his contributions to the Stretch Dance Co. videos.  Don’t forget to check him out on Spotify and his Facebook page!

Dance Etiquette for Dummies: Encore Edition

After my post a couple weeks ago with  some people who can’t get off their phone in yoga class, I went to a show where I got a double dose of inconsiderate theatergoers.  We were in the middle of the ingenue’s ballad when I heard a scrtich scratch scritch scratch behind me.  Someone was actually filing her nails in the middle of the show.  It was like the theater gods had put her in my path on purpose, telling me that my job was not yet done.

Since it would be a three-act tragedy to go against the theater gods, I’m following up on last week’s post about class etiquette with audience etiquette.

Take care of your personal hygiene at home.  Maybe you brush your teeth while watching TV at home, but we’re in public.  Here’s the short list of things I’ve seen audience members do during the show:

  • Clipping and filing nails
  • Flossing
  • Brushing hair
  • Putting on mascara
  • Putting on deodorant

Leaving during the final scene.  Do you just stop reading a book when you know what happens at the end?  Do you stop driving one exit away from your house?  I think the idea that these early rises have this strange idea that if they leave five minutes earlier, they’ll magically miss LA traffic.  It’s not saving you that much time, and you’re missing out on the epic finale number.

Stretch - Bad Theater Goes WIlkes
John Wilkes Booth was the ultimate bad theatergoer: he not only shot the president, he jumped from the balcony and ran across the stage. RUDE.

TURN OFF YOUR CELLPHONE.  SERIOUSLY.  Nope, not to vibrate. Turn it off.   You may think that no one will notice you updating your Facebook status from the audience, but even the dimmest cell phone setting illuminates your face, meaning that you stand out like a lighthouse in a sea of faces. And you’d be surprised how far we can see.

This is my BIGGEST pet peeve about going to the theater.  I get it.  I also think that the zombie apocalypse will hit minutes after I turn off my cell phone, and I’ll lose my chance at getting out on time.

However, by leaving your cell phone, you’re really robbing yourself.  Live performance is an amazing, yet fragile experience.  It can be a transformative, amazing experience if you let yourself get lost in the world that the artists have created, but it is very easy to break that fourth wall.  You’re not only stomping all over the hard work of the performers that you paid to see, but on the impact of the performance for yourself.

So do yourself a favor: put away the cell phone and the nail clippers for two hours of your life, sit back, and enjoy the show.  Believe me: they’re still be there when you get out of the show.

Note: Know what’s surprisingly okay at a show?  Falling asleep.  Performers know that theater isn’t always exhilarating for everyone, not to mention it’s dark, sometimes we’re actually singing you lullabies, and the seats can be pretty comfy.  The biggest faux pas disturb the performance, but so long as you don’t snore to loudly, you won’t attract the ire of (most) performers, though we may giggle about it backstage.

The Gift of Dance

Stumped for holiday gift ideas?  Maybe you have relatives or friends visiting from out of town and you’re tired of making the drive up to Hollywood to show off the Hollywood sign from a gas station parking lot.  Maybe you just have some extra time on your hands and want to ward off the winter chill with some indoor cardio.

LA’s dance scene is as diverse as its demographics.  Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, a social dancer, or a focused barre flower, Los Angeles has countless gems for dancing.  Here’s just an idea of what you can find to get you out of the house and into the spirit of dance!

Cicada Club
The Cicada Club mixes vintage dress, dance, and delicious drinks all in the same classy nightclub!

Swing Dancing

If it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, then head on over to one of LA’s swing dancing clubs!  Lindy Groove in Pasadena is one of the largest swing events in Southern California and offers lessons beforehand.  Swing dancing is a fun way to meet new people and learn some new moves in the process.  If you really want to class things up, doll yourself up and waltz through the vintage nightclub, the Cicada Club.  Dress up in your favorite vintage duds, take in the stunning art deco architecture, and enjoy the live Big Band music while you dance the night away.  Did I mention that they also have delicious drinks?

Great for: Social dancing, dressing up (optional, depending on venue), date night

 

Bollywood
These classes take the structure of a dance class with the fun of the Bollywood movies.

Bollywood – Spice it up this winter with Bollywood dancing!  Bollywood dance is a highly energetic dance form found in Indian films and often combines elements of classical Indian dance with modern movement and music.  You can find classes all over LA, but LA DanceFit Studio is great for a more workout-focused class, while NDM Bollywood Dance offer an experience focused more on the dance itself.

Great for: Structured classes, ridiculous amounts of fun, multicultural experiences, effortless cardio

 

Line Dancing
Cowboy hat: optional. Cowboy boots: necessary.

Line dancing – If country music is your jam, grab your boots and head to one of Los Angeles’ country bars!  I just got into line dancing last year at a friend’s birthday party and have been getting my friends addicted to the boot stompin’ moves ever since.  Line dancing is a fantastic for beginners because the steps repeat themselves, and most bars have free lessons if you get there early enough.  My personal fave is Cowboy Country in Long Beach, but Montana’s and In Cahoots are also solid options.

Great for: Beginners, cheap learnin’, and people watching

 

Aerial silks class
Aerial classes are like learning to be ninja, but half the mortal peril.

Aerial

Want to take your dancing to the next level (literally)?  Twinkle your toes in the air with one of Los Angeles’ many aerial studios.  Choose from hoop (lyra), silks, trapeze, and many others.  If you’re not afraid of heights, aerial is like an adult playground.  It can be a drag picking up the basics, but few classes can compete with the athleticism, the dynamism, and the all-out fun of aerial.  Try Cirque School, Hollywood Aerial Arts, or Fembody Fitness to get your circus career off the ground.

Great for: Intermediate to advanced dancers, athletic friends, adventure seekers (P.S. Make sure you’re not afraid of heights!)

 

Feel free to chime in in the comments if you know of any dance gems in Los Angeles!

You Know You’re a Dancer When…

After four hours of filming in pointe shoes on Friday night, my legs were aching, my feet were bleeding, and I walked like an eighty-year-old escapee from an assisted living community I could think of was:

Yesssssssss. 

You may think I’m crazy, but any dancer knows that feeling.   There’s something incredibly satisfying about pushing yourself to the edge of what you think is possible for yourself, and surpassing it.  Every muscle ache, every blister, every sweat stain is proof that you pushed past the ugly obstacles to create something amazing.

The truth is, being a dancer can be a pretty unglamorous lifestyle, and you can feel like a little bit of a freak because you find people sitting on you really relaxing.  But every so often, I see someone walking like a duck down the street, and you know they’re a dancer when…

…you know what a hairnet is, and use one regularly.

Stretch - Hairnet
People always think that I’m pulling out my actual hair when I take a hairnet out. Last time I checked, my hair does not have elastic in it.

 

…you rock out to the music playing in the grocery store.

 

…your car and washing machine will never be completely full of bobby pins

 

…you tell the pedicurist NOT to remove your callouses.
you OWN at Dance Central (DDR is a little harder…unless you’re this guy)

 

…you can tell what kind of dance someone does by their muscle tone

Stretch _Dance muscles
Break dancers tend to have very defined arms and abs, while salsa dancers have awesome shoulder and calf muscles. Ballet dancers have long, lean leg muscle tone.

 

…you have tons of options for Halloween costumes already in your closet

 

NOTHING stops you from getting to dance class, even getting your wisdom teeth out

 

…you dance like no one’s watching, even when people are.

 

Don’t forget to keep your eye out for Stretch’s new pointe video, coming soon on our YouTube channel!

Life Lessons Learned From Dance Class

I’ve been dancing since I was three years old, but it’s only recently that I realized that all that time spent onstage has taught me some vital life lessons beyond pointing my toe correctly and fluffing my tutu.

1.  Be nice to your costume designer.

In theater, one person you never want to piss off is the costume designer.  Why?  The costume designer can make you look fabulous…or they can stitch your pants just tight enough to show your muffin top.  Not many of us have costume designers in real life, but this important life lesson has taught me that every job is vital, and every person has their specific purpose.  An architect’s design is only as good as the team who assembles it.  Treat everyone with the same respect, even if they aren’t the ones in the spotlight, because chances are they’re the ones who can make your job that much easier…or make you wear a mustard yellow spandex unitard.

 

Stretch - Dance Class

2.  Practice makes permanent .

In my dance studio growing up, the phrase wasn’t “practice makes perfect,” but “practice makes permanent.”  If you practice the wrong things, that’s what’s going to stick.  If you always procrastinate, or if you only do your work with half the focus, that’s how you’re training yourself to respond to all situations.  The same holds true outside the studio as well.

3.  How to set goals like a pro.

I also learned that progress is a series of tiny, almost invisible improvements.  I don’t aim to do everything perfectly in dance class, but I focus on a few goals to get me through the day, like lifting my leg a little higher, or going for an extra pirouette across the floor.  Life is the same way.  It can be hard to try a new fitness routine, or on keeping my car clean, or to cook more than I eat out, but if I focus on the baby steps each week, I’m much closer to make progress.

4.  The small things will get you hired…and fired.

There is a very strict, mostly unspoken etiquette in dance. Showing up early, wearing clothes that don’t get in the way of dancing, turning off your cell phone, and a strong focus on the task at hand prove a dancer’s mettle almost as the diva who can whip out 32 fouettes, but shows up half an hour late all the time.  These same mannerisms, along with my ability to pick up on unspoken etiquette, has gotten me jobs outside the theater.  It’s amazing how much the little things can make an impression on others…and conversely, I’ve seen others deal with the fallout that seemingly insignificant practices.

5.  The final performance is out of your hands.

Now matter how many weeks and hours you practice, live performances are subject to last minute disasters.  I’ve seen broken bones, fire alarms, slippery floors, tangled jump ropes, broken shoes, and countless other small catastrophes that are almost impossible to prepare for, but at the end of the day the show must go on.  Life is a live performance.  It’s important and necessary to prepare as much as you can, but at the end of the day, you have to work with what life throws at you.  It’s no use beating yourself up about what you couldn’t prepare for, so be happy with what you did accomplish and get on with the show!

Stretch - Denai Being a Badass

Dance Where You Least Expect It

If you’ve been anywhere on the internet in the past few weeks, Virgin Airlines’ new safety video must have clogged up your newsfeed at least four times by now.  What I love about this video is how Virgin has integrated dance into something as mundane as buckling your seatbelt, and it got me thinking…what other unusual situations are dancers pop and locking up?

 

Here are just a few to get you started:

On a train…

Flash mobs AND Julie Andrews?  What more could you want from a dance routine?

Out Shopping…

Stretch - Arianna-Bickle
From http://www.dancersamongus.com/photos

Dancers Among Us is a photography project by Jordan Matter.  Matter was inspired by the storytelling abilities of dancers and their complete commitment to the worlds they create in the mundane.  His photos combine the extraordinary beauty of dance in ordinary surroundings.

On the street…in roller skates

Roller skating is a pretty common pastime.  Tapping is a little less common, but not unheard of.  But tap dancing in roller skates?  Only Gene Kelly can make something make roller tapping look as natural as walking.

On top of a car…

Ever gotten bored while waiting for your gas tank to fill?  Why don’t you take a leaf out of this guy’s book and take a little spin on the roof of the car?

Underwater…

Synchronized Swimming

They might get made fun of for their sometimes terrifying makeup, but synchronized swimming is no joke.  Swimmers train both on land and off to make their routines picture perfect and worth their salt!

Down some stairs…

If anyone else besides James Cagney tried this, they would end up with a broken neck, but he doesn’t even seem to have broken a sweat.

 

What other examples of dance in unexpected places have you come across!  Feel free to chime in on the comments or on our Facebook page!  

12 Dance-Inspired Costumes for Halloween

Stumped for a Halloween costume?  Ditch the witch hat and try these dance inspired costumes on for size!

1.  CENTER STAGE

Center Stage / Center Stage
From http://soicankissyouanytimeiwant.com/

Come on.  You KNEW this was coming from the moment you read the blog title.

2.  BLACK SWAN

black-swan-makeup-ideas
From http://blackswanmakeup.wordpress.com/

Just stick with the eye makeup for a fun touch for Halloween, or go for full prima devil.

3.  JABBAWOCKEEZ

Jabbawockeez1
From http://www.vegaschatter.com/

Need a group costume?  Grab a mask, a baseball cap, and group pose your way into neverending Halloween candy.

4.  STRICTLY BALLROOM

Strictly-Ballroom-baz-luhrmann-749264_1600_900
From http://www.fanpop.com/

Ballroom: where the hair is ALMOST as big as the shoulder feathers.

….or you could look less like an ostrich and more like a BAMF.

strictly-ballroom-movie
From http://lancerivera1.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/strictly-ballroom/

 

5. THE FLAPPER

Flapper dresses
From http://www.shotinthedarkmysteries.com/flapper-costume-ideas/

Flapper dresses have the advantage of looking cute on anyone.  The hats…not so much.

6.  THE NUTCRACKER

Stretch - Nutcracker
From Costumestore.com

You know how the ladies can’t resist a man in uniform.  But if the Nutcracker is too risque for you, you can always try…

7.  MAGIC MIKE

Magic Mike
From thewrap.com

Officially the cheapest Halloween costume ever.

8.  DIRTY DANCING

dirtydancing
From http://madisonmovie.wordpress.com/

It is obligatory that “Love is Strange” plays the ENTIRE time you wear this costume.

9.  BRING IT ON

BringItOnBigPic
From hellogiggles.com

Now that “Bring It On” is a Broadway musical, you can bust out your old high school uniform without shame.

10.  SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Cyd_charisse_singing_in_the_rain
From wikipedia.org

Sure you can skip around in a big yellow raincoat and umbrella…or you could be the Girl in the Green Dress and set the barre as high as your extension.

11.  FLASH DANCE

Flashdance_Sweatshirt with tuxedo
From:http://nickverrreos.blogspot.com/

I’m pretty sure Jennifer Beals is the only person who can pull off a baggy sweatshirt with high heels and a tuxedo in the same movie.

12. WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?

Stretch - what-does-the-fox-say
From onepopz.com

Who cares what the fox says, your friends will say Ring-ding-ding-ding-ding if you break out in this getup. 

 Tune in again on Thursday for more Halloween fun when Stretch Dance Co. puts a spell on you with their latest video on our YouTube channel!

Dance to Start a Movement

How do we talk about that which is taboo?

It’s not that we don’t know that there are problems in our world, in our government, even in our home spheres.  How is that we find it easy to share images of soldiers coming home to families, but not PSTD; of cute videos of puppies, but not animal cruelty; of our endless lists of first world problems, but not the lack of basic resources in third world counties?

Stretch - Reaching
Lyndell’s “Sitting Sadly By Your Side” tackles the tough subject of those who suffer from Depression, as well as its impact on those close to them.

To be fair, there’s not a really a good way to bring up these heavy issues in everyday conversation.  You can’t just drop a “Hey, did you hear about the Somalian civil war this morning?”  at the water cooler and expect to get much of an honest dialogue going.

In an increasingly politically correct world where even newspapers don’t take sides in issues as huge as the Federal Shutdown, how can we find the words to start these conversations?

Maybe, we don’t need words, but a movement.

William Forsythe
William Forsythe is a famous choreographer known for taking on controversial issues.

I will never be one to dispute the power of the pen, but it can be hard to know how to begin to approach such dangerous topics as war, racism, mental illness.  Every conversation needs a springboard; why not dance?

Dance is such an incredibly versatile form; records of its existence date as far back as the records themselves. Almost everyone can dance, whether they’re a full-fledged ballerina, a prancing football player or just your average Joe who bounces to the beat in private.

But for all its adaptability, for all its powerful use of expression, dance is a launching point for a conversation.  These ideas, be they about war or peace, will be left on the stage without those who are willing to discuss the issues brought up in their pieces.

Dance teaches people about team work and respect, to think creatively and express themselves. It can break down gender inequality and teach people to support each other.” says Restless Theater Dance Company CEO Kumori Middleton.

I can’t think of a better place to start a conversation then from there.

 

Guest Post: Designing I Have Lived a Thousand Years

Gabriella Rose Lamboy is Stretch Dance Co.’s costume  designer.  Gabriella talks about the challenges she faced designing I Have Lived a Thousand Years that was both realistic and accommodating to the  demanding choreography for the dancers.  

Stretch - Costumes
Though the costumes look uniform, each has its own details depending on the dancer

I wanted to be historically accurate when designing the women’s prisoner uniforms, but I also needed to accommodate the dancers.  The actual uniforms were made with a very stiff, scratchy cotton fabric – which is not ideal to dance in.

I spent a day in the LA Fashion District on a hunt for the right charcoal grey fabric. The hard part was finding a fabric that was stretchy, but would still appear thick onstage. After a full day’s search, I finally found the perfect fabric in the last store I went to! The rest of my shopping list was easy: notions, buttons and paint.

I started by using a regular men’s polo shirt as a pattern. I cut it into sections and made the pieces longer to create more of a dress-like shape. I then sewed all the pieces together, added buttons, and hemmed the dresses. But was I finished?

Not quite.

After creating eight perfect uniforms it was time to grunge down. I used a seam ripper to distress the uniforms, adding frayed edges and ripping holes. Some uniforms got a bit extra treatment because they needed to look more worn for the women who had been imprisoned longer.

Stretch - Makeup
Gabriella’s costumes meshed perfectly with Brittany Vardakas’ makeup.

As a finishing touch, I watered down acrylic paint and used a sponge to add dirt and sweat stains, focusing on the areas that would get the grossest: the bottom hem and underarms.

But that wasn’t quite enough.  To complete the look, I spattered various yellows and browns to give the look of mud and other unmentionable stains. Lyndell wanted the dancers to feel disgusted putting the costumes on, and I think I was able to achieve that. (Laura’s note: object achieved!)

The most rewarding part of this experience was getting to see my costumes transform into the people from the memoir under the stage lights. It was emotional–and a little bit sickening–how real the grotesque makeup and costumes seemed.

This is a very powerful show and I am excited to see how it transforms to better educate future generations.

–Gabriella Rose Lamboy

Gabriella
Gabriella looking fierce!

A Dancer’s Perspective: Dancing Through the Darkest Moments

Missed our preview performance?  Get a front row seat with pictures from our performance!

A few weeks ago, I posted the most commonly asked questions about our show.  One of them was about how the dancers in the company deal with the emotionally heavy subject matter of the show.  One patron even asked what the hardest chapter was to perform.

None of these chapters are particularly sunny, but the hardest chapter for me is one of the most uplifting in the show: Chapter 22:Tattoo.

Stretch - Tattoo1

In this chapter, Elli’s ailing mother is revived by a sudden rain fall.  Elli and her fellow prisoners open their mouths to the sky, tasting their first untainted gulps of water in months.  Many of these prisoners are on the verge of death from thirst, starvation, and overwork, and this sudden downpour gives new life to the shattered lives of the inmates.

It’s supposed to be an uplifting—if haunting—chapter, and is one of the few times we see the inmates in the concentration camp rejoice, if only for a short while.

I suppose that’s what makes this chapter so hard for me.  This was the first chapter where I felt a visceral connection to the material, and helped me find my way into the rest of the show.  It was hard for me to put myself into the shoes of these people—especially because you know that these were real lives of those who lived and died.  My brain understood the connection, but I couldn’t tie my emotions to the thoughts.

Until Chapter 22.

For me, I spend the first half of the number facing the back, which gives me time to settle into the abandoned music box quality of the music.  I remember looking forward to the next break during our first rehearsal of the number, because I was dying for a drink of water.

1236032_683613971667196_383067347_n
The rest of the dancers stand in the back during Anne’s touching solo.

It hit me like a sucker punch to the gut.

I could see the span of what I might feel in a similar situation.  I would hate the people who were slowly killing me, hate that no one did anything to stop them, I would hate myself for my body’s weakness.   I would think that everyone—even God—had abandoned me.

And that was the point in the music where the “rain” began.

Was this an answer to my prayers, or just a cruel trick of nature? I couldn’t help but wonder who else might have had those thoughts during the actual event.  And the relief from the rain brought a dangerous emotion: hope.

There is a safety in being locked in the grim routine of the camps, in not caring about the future.  But to hope?  Hope gives you something to lose in a place where you cannot afford to fall behind.

As I realized this, far from the tragedies of the concentration camps, I was again astounded at the incredibly courage of Elli and her family.  To continue to have such hope, even in the darkest of circumstances must have been almost impossible to sustain.  And yet she did.  And still does, in fact.

So while Chapter 22 may be one of the most difficult portions for me to perform, it is also the most humbling and inspiring of the passages.  I can never truly understand the suffering of those who went through the Holocaust, only someone who lived it can.  But this chapter, to me at least, reflects the greater message of this show and memoir: a message of hope and compassion even in times of terrible darkness.

I would love to hear what my fellow dancers have to say about their toughest or most inspiring moments in the show, if only to give me a break from rejecting the spam comments! 

 

Stretch - Donate