Sean Foran: “If you’re curious as to how modern jazz could be interpreted into dance, come take a look!”

Sean Foran, photographed by Kristin Berardi

It may have not been his intention, but Sean Foran’s latest venture shatters two certainties: that 3 + 3 = 6 and that modern jazz is not music to dance to. Working with the acclaimed choreographer and artistic director of Expressions Dance Company, Natalie Weir, on her latest project, Behind Closed Doors, the pianistnot only creates music that people (okay, professional dancers) can dance to, but he performs it with his closest collaborators – Kristin Berardi, Rafael Karlen and Trichotomy (his trio with John Parker and Samuel Vincent). So, in this case, two brilliant trios equal a stellar quintet, improvising and interacting with the dancers onstage. What is ‘Behind Closed Doors’?

Sean Foran: It’s a fantastic show, created by Natalie Weir of ‘Expressions Dance Company’. The show is set inside a hotel and explores the private lives of its inhabitants. We’d worked with Natalie years ago for a performance at the Judith Wright Centre, on a similar show called ‘While Others Sleep’. Natalie wanted to bring us on board again, and this time were at QPAC, so they have been able to enhance the production in terms of set, staging, lighting… it’s quite visually stunning.

AJN: What was the creative process like?

SF: Natalie had a pretty clear vision of what she wanted, which makes the process easy! I gave her a whole bunch of music – Trichotomy albums, my recent album, ‘Frame of Reference’, and the Berardi/Foran/Karlen album, ‘Hope in my pocket‘.Nataliewanted to have vocals in the show, so we started looking at where we could integrate it. From there, she picked a bunch of songs that would work with her vision for the choreography and mood and they developed dance to suit the music.

AJN: What is the relationship between the musicians and the dancers?

SF: It’s very close; and its a wonderful combination of some moments being quite set and synchronised and then others being heavily improvised. We’re always watching the dancers and responding to them – sometimes closely following the actions with musical cues, at other times creating a dynamic and textural sense of the emotion in the dance through the music. On the other hand, the dancers are listening to us and responding, taking their timing cues from us sometimes. It works both ways and both music and dance really share the stage. Oh, and we’re on stage too, so we’re very much part of the performance, as opposed to being hidden in a pit or something.

AJN: How did you work on the themes of intimacy and privacy and voyeurism?

SF: We’ve tackled them through dynamic and textural changes mostly. The ensemble features the trio Trichotomy (piano/bass/drums), but also Kristin Berardi (vocals) and Rafael Karlen (saxophone), so there’s an interesting mix of sounds to play with. Also, we’re running some subtle effects on the drums and piano to create some more eerie and strange sounds. I think this gives a sense of privacy, mystery and elements of the unknown.

Photo: Kristin Berardi

AJN: What is the role of intimacy in the jazz trio setting?

SF: It’s so important This type of group is so transparent, you really hear every note from all the players. I also think that the element of trust is really wrapped up in the intimacy. You’ve got to trust each others musicality, instincts and sense of space in the band. That trust allows everyone to play from a personal space knowing that the other players will respond.

AJN: How does this project allow for Trichotomy to show the group’s dynamics?

SF: It’s a good one for that! Musically the show moves from incredibly delicate ballads to full forte dynamic crushing dissonant improvised passages. Sometimes it shifts between those two extremes quite quickly! I quite enjoy those musical moments though, and I think the dramatic dynamic shifts really suit the group. Natalie is highly aware of how we can create this type of change and has created choreography to feature the dramatic shifts.

AJN: This project combines both your trios in a new setting; what isthe result? Is this a quintet?

SF: Yeah, its the all star band! Heh heh! Well, they are two separate groups, and usually quite different in the music that they play. But I think in this situation, yes, it’s a quintet. I suppose the initial plan for the show was to have Trichotomy, but Natalie and I wanted to extend the instrumental, dynamic, and emotional range of the music. Getting Rafael and Kristin was an obvious choice. Further to this, Natalie has then chosen some Berardi/Foran/Karlen material and we’ve included the other guys in Trichotomy on it, so that’s quite interesting to hear the material reworked with the quintet instrumentation. For me, it’s just so wonderful to have all these musicians playing on stage together; these are my favourite people to play music with and they all interpret the songs in such thoughtful ways!

AJN: What would you say to persuade someone to come see the performance?

SF: This is a very compelling production, where you get to experience some highly physical modern dance paired closely with dynamic improvised jazz. The story of the characters in the show is quite emotional; it’s a real journey and I think you’re drawn into their world, and captivated by the constantly shifting music. Also, the staging, set and lighting is absolutely stunning. I think it” quite a unique production, not something you’re likely to see anywhere else. If you’re curious as to how modern jazz could be interpreted into dance, come take a look!

AJN: Which tune best describe your current state of mind?

SF: Hometown – Bojan Z

Probably because we’ve got this great run of shows for the season (May 19-27) in our hometown, Brisbane. But furthermore, it’s a great piece! Solo piano/Rhodes, with a slow groove to it. I like its sense of pulse and insistent pull back to the tonic.

*Behind Closed Doors is featuredat Queensland Performing Arts Centre until 27 May.

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