By MIKE CHAIKEN
Leonardo da Vinci was known for many things, such as his art and his inventions.
But he was never known for dance choreography.
But the Sonia Plumb Dance Company has placed da Vinci squarely in the spotlight of the dance stage in its latest creation.
The company presents “The Dance of da Vinci” this weekend at The Bushnell in Hartford.
Although da Vinci seems an unlikely starting point for a dance piece, Plumb explained otherwise.
“The primary reason Leonard da Vinci works as an inspiration is because he himself was a humanist polymath,” said Plumb in an email interview. “He studied everything and limited himself to nothing. He felt, he loved, he had his ‘demons,’ he had his ‘passions.’ He embraced life and nature, science and art. Our present world is filled with Leonardo’s work as an artist and a scientist.”
Plumb said she used da Vinci for inspiration for a dance piece because “it is one of those dances that found me.”
“I was mulling about what my next big project would be and ‘The Dance of da Vinci’ popped into my head. I said to myself, ‘Well that is interesting, I know almost nothing about him.’ Then things began to snowball. I met a new friend who introduced me to Jean Paul Richter’s ‘Notebooks.’ On one side Leonardo’s writings are written in Italian and the other side is the English translation. They are filled with sketches, musings, maxims and ‘how tos.’ Once I dove in I discovered the human he was: an artist, a mathematician, philosopher, scientist, architect… I felt a kinship as I, too, have always felt myself more than just a dancer.”
“It’s definitely an interesting concept and unlike a process I’ve been a part of before,” said Richard Pye, one of the dancers bringing life to “The Dance of da Vinci.” “We, as dancers, respond to the words and workings of the notebooks and use this to inform our relationships to others and the life behind the movement material,” said Pye in his email interview.
“For example,” Pye said, “there is a section based on da Vinci’s stories of elephants. Here, we had a lot of fun using movement to become animalistic and respond as if we were the family of elephants in this story without it becoming too literal.”
To help audiences understand the concept, Plumb said, “The dance is broken into four sections that correspond to Leonardo’s work. Section 1 focuses on his work as a sculptor, painter and observer of human movement. Section 2 is inspired by his observations of animals, not only for drawing purposes but also how they equate to human behavior and vice versa. Section 3 draws from his work as an architect, machine builder, and inventor. Section 4 brings it all together.”
“The dance is supported with original music, Italian Renaissance madrigals, live vocals from 26 voices, projections, light and of course the dancers. Marrying the elements as da Vinci would appreciate,” said Plumb, who also noted there is a study guide to help audiences understand the piece.
As a dancer bringing Plumb’s concept to life, Pye said, “My biggest challenge along the way was gaining the knowledge of the time and of da Vinci himself to bring these elements to life within the creation and the piece.”
“It’s been a truly interesting process (watching the piece come to life) with many different chunks all inspired by a multitude of different things from art to animals to contraptions to kill others,” said Pye. “But now that we have all the pieces together and seamlessly transitioned, thanks to the original music by composer Mike Wall, the piece has an overwhelming sense of clarity.
“I believe the piece gives a sense of real human nature, across all aspects of life both then and now,” said Pye.
“Dance of da Vinci” from the Sonia Plumb Dance Company will be performed Saturday, April 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 22 at 4 p.m. at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford.
Tickets are $25-$38 and can be purchased online at bushnell.org or by calling the box office at (860)987-5900. A premium seating option is offered: purchase one ticket for $38, receive the second at 50 percent off. Use the code DAVINCI50 at checkout.
For more information, go to www. SoniaPlumbDance.org
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.