David Roussève / REALITY
Halfway to Dawn: The Strayhorn Project
World Premiere: Fall 2018
Though instrumental in the creation of arguably the most important body of work in American musical history, Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) remains largely unknown. As Duke Ellington’s main arranger and writing collaborator he wrote or co-wrote Ellington signatures like “A Train”, “Satin Doll”, “Something to Live For”, “Rain Check” and “UMMG”. But gay, out, and living in Harlem in the 1940’s-60’s, Strayhorn never received full credit for his work choosing instead to lead a remarkably private life, whether by choice or- as suggested by biographer David Hadju- because he was aware that the larger public would not be as accepting of his sexual identity as was the Ellington extended ‘family’. Hajdu writes “It really was truth or consequences and Billy went with truth.”
“Halfway to Dawn” seeks to capture the ‘truth’ of Billy Strayhorn’s life by redefining ‘biography’ as the intersection of fact, conjecture, comment, abstraction, and fantasy; all housed within a celebration of Strayhorn’s wildly diverse music as interpreted through a unique movement vocabulary that melds jazz, modern/postmodern, and social dance. “Halfway to Dawn” also seeks to conduct a dialogue on the ‘truths’ of our own lives; and the themes of fame and privacy residing at the core of Strayhorn’s journey have never been more resonant than they are today; a time of Kim Kardashian fame, social media over-sharing, and NSA-spying. Strayhorn’s narrative- with subtexts of legacy, ‘footprint’, and the very notion of ‘being remembered’- also insinuates a dialogue on the human condition and the impermanence of existence, providing an emotional resonance to this expressionistic dance/theater work.
An evening-length weaving of dance, music, video, text, expressionistic theatrical passages, and visual design, “Halfway to Dawn” will be written, directed, and choreographed by David Rousseve and performed by the nine-member company David Roussève/REALITY. Video imagery will be created by Roussève’s long time collaborator Cari Ann Shim Sham and dramaturgy provided by Lucy Burns. Chris Kuhl will design lights that shift seamlessly between the past, present, and fantasy worlds. d. sabela Grimes will create an on-going sound design that grounds the piece in a jazz inflected, hip hop affected present.
But the center of “Halfway to Dawn” will remain REALITY’s full throttle dancing to Strayhorn’s remarkably intelligent, ‘blow the roof off’ music. From a series of emotion laden ballads to a series of ebullient jazz anthems, Strayhorn’s music and the choreography exploring its’ rhythmic foundations and bittersweet emotional subtexts provide the spine and very raison d’etre for “Halfway to Dawn”.
“Halfway to Dawn” is currently in development for a fall 2018 world premiere. If interested in co-commissioning or presenting the work please contact Sophie Myrtil-McCourty at Lotus Arts Management.