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Upcoming Performance Garage Ballet Offers a Collaborative Twist

For choreographer Bryan Koulman, using pre-recorded music is nothing compared to a live performance.

“To me, it’s like the difference between going to Yosemite and being on the bus, as opposed to walking around outside,” Koulman said.

On Friday, Koulman’s self-titled dance company will make its debut at the Performance Garage — tucked away near 15th and Brandywine streets in Fairmount, the space will house not only live dancers, but a cluster of classically-trained musicians to accompany them.

/Bryan Koulman

/Bryan Koulman

“I like that idea of getting this sort of, like, really strong connection between live music performance and live dance performance,” Koulman said.

Koulman’s spring performance will feature an array of local dancers — from alumni and faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet based in Narberth, PA, to apprentices from the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Ballet.

Divided into five movements, the contemporary choreography touches upon traditional balletic structures, like the waltz and the pas de deux. Behind Koulman’s work lies a slew of varied themes and concepts — from dreams and nighttime, to growth, death and climate change.

“His whole mindset all day long is him thinking about his choreography and the show and putting it all together,” said Autumn Dziegrenuk, a dancer in the performance who has worked with and studied under Koulman.

As dancers progress through movements on jazz, flat and pointe shoes, the Fairmount Strings Quartet will provide live accompaniment to all but one movement.

A chamber music ensemble that began in 1984, the Fairmount Strings have performed pieces as classical Bach and Mozart compositions and as contemporary as “Uptown Funk.” This time around, five members will be tackling more avant-garde pieces — filled with violently clashing harmonies and jolting changes of tempo.

“I think our ears are used to hearing things in four-bar phrases, and when things overlap they’re all neatly overlapping, and this is, you know, more abrupt,” said Beth Dzwil, a founding member of the Fairmount Strings.

For the upcoming spring performance, the Fairmount Strings will evade the traditional Swan Lake and Giselle scores, instead paying tribute to composers like Béla Bartók and Alexander Scriabin.

Even for Rachel Segal — a principal violinist of the Fairmount Strings who has performed internationally — performing Bartók is nothing short of challenging.

“It’s kind of like a 2,500-piece jigsaw puzzle that’s all the same color,” Segal described. “It goes by so quickly that you really have to be sort of hyper-aware the whole time you’re playing.”

The compositions were purely Koulman’s choice — long before pursuing dance, he studied the piano and French Horn, delving into the world of classical music as early as the age of seven.

Although he had been fascinated with dance since seeing a performance at eight years old, Koulman did not begin training until he was he was twenty and in college — a remarkably late age. Despite not receiving college credit, Koulman squeezed modern dance classes into his schedule.

“I got the bug,” Koulman said.

After a period of dancing professionally, he began working as a computer programmer, often tuning in to classical music while coding. While drifting somewhat from dance, Koulman never stopped using choreography as an outlet.

“If you’re going through sort of a hard time, it’s a good healing process,” Koulman said.

Now, with the culmination of his new company, Koulman said he hopes to continue fostering collaboration with live musicians — making it a consistent component in future performances. For now, under Koulman’s direction, dancers and musicians are preparing to grace the stage together to showcase a new Philadelphia company.

“If you can get past the point where you’re judging it and just kind of experiencing what is going on, you’re looking at the dancers doing your work, it’s a lovely feeling,” Koulman said.

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