Out-Stretched: Interview with Level Ground


No art exists in a vacuum; neither does Stretch.  That’s why this interview is focused on reaching out to other dance and art collectives with a focus on community, education, and acceptance. We interviewed Niko Palacios, the Program Development point person for the Level Ground Festival.   Level Ground is becoming a national innovator in film festival programming, art curation, and dialogue.  Level Ground uses art to create safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality in the  hopes of cultivating a better way of speaking across differences and disagreements.

14128LG-2015Poster_03dWhat drew you to Level Ground?  When did you first start working with the project?

Level Ground comes out of an experience with other friends at Fuller Seminary.  It was the first LGBT group at an evangelical institution that wasn’t about challenging the platform or having an agenda, but was focused on building empathy.  We were surprised at the traction we found in the first few years.  The original founders decided to bring it to a more international audience, and during the second year, decided to bring me on.  I really believe in the methodology of Level Ground, because I myself have found myself caught between two worlds: the gay and Christian community.  Everyone who participates in it has a lot at stake, and is so courageous, but it leads to lots of conversation.

Level Ground does start the conversation in a lot of ways—it’s a very multimedia group.  Can you talk a little bit about why it’s so important to have a diverse approach to this conversation?

We do believe that people are more likely to experience art with someone they don’t know, or who they perceive to have different values.  It’s easier to see for a moment in someone else’s life journey, to build empathy, and expose stories and narratives in a far-reaching method.

What do you hope to see in the future with Level Ground?

We’ve done a great job historically at widening discussion and Memes2015_0000_A (1)perception around gender and sexuality.  We’ve exposed unheard narratives and stories around the country—we had 6-7 different festivals in our first year alone curating art and fostering artists in the community.  I’m constantly surprised at what I’ve learned along the way.  These stories provide rich nuance and context, and prove there’s more than the face you see on TV.  Looking forward, we hope to go wide, to really broaden our scope of topic matter by using great tools and effective dialogue.  Racial inequality, interfaith matters, and so much  more.  In the past, we’ve been really focused on sexuality, but now I think we can explore how it intertwines with other political conversations.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m just so grateful to the participants, the sponsors, and contributors, who put their art, themselves, and their reputations on the line to deconstruct the narrow ways of being seen in the world.  I just really want to say thank you to the artists, and I look forward to hearing more stories.


Level Ground’s Festival is going on this weekend in Pasadena.  Find out more here, or click this link to attend!

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!