Michael Wall and Molly Heller Team up With Other Choreographers at Shawl-Anderson

Composition and dance go hand-in-hand, and this production exemplifies composing for dance.


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Molly Heller and Michael Wall put music front and center in their collaboration.

Courtesy Duhaime Movement Project

Dance and music go together like peanut butter and jelly. You can’t think of one without the other. However, in the arts a match is not necessarily that easy. Choreographers may not articulate verbally what they want; composers are not that informed about what dance needs.

In comes Michael Wall, who must be unique among composers: He only creates music for two of the moving arts, film and, primarily, dance. He is comfortable and experienced writing for ballet, modern dance or anything in between.

Trained as a jazz musician, Wall made his living for many years playing for ballet and modern dance classes both in New York and around the country. By now, he says, “I can almost tell from a choreographer’s voice what she — or he — needs.” Sometimes, the choreographer has just an idea for a piece, expresses a preference for a certain type of music, or has a dance half-finished and now needs music to enhance a mood or create a context. If the choreographer is local, Wall will attend rehearsals but communication also happens with emails, long conversations, exchange of books, writings, videotapes, and, last but not least, his own instincts of what might be needed in what he has learned.

Wall’s soundFORMovement website has a collection of over 400 tracks of sound designs, available to professionals at a nominal fee and free to students. Included are such examples as “scores made for dance,” “metered scores for dance,” and “a 30-minute track for meditation.”

Last December, the prolific composer made his first Bay Area appearance with Molly Heller, a choreographer and colleague at the University of Utah who digs deep into her dancers’ biographies as well as their artistic propensities. Their collaboration, very varied, so impressed Shawl-Anderson Dance Center’s Artistic Director Jill Randall that she invited the duo for the Shawl-Anderson’s Dance Close Up East Bay performance series.

The two will premiere an as yet unnamed solo for Heller that they have been working on for over a year. Randall also wanted to take advantage of Wall’s wide-ranging experience as a dance composer, so she asked Bay Area choreographers Dana Lawton, Tanya Chianese, Dazaun Soleyn, and Simpson/Stulberg Collaborations to show Wall-inspired choreography in a dance concert in which the music, most likely, will not play second fiddle.

Molly Heller/Michael Wall, Sat., Oct. 13, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., $20, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, 2704 Alcatraz Ave., Berkeley, MovementForSound.brownpapertickets.com.

This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.

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