In 2008, Dallas’ Texas Ballet Theater ended the use of a live orchestral accompaniment, citing financial strain and a decline in attendance. They were one of the last major dance ensembles in North Texas to use live music. But by 2012, Katie Cooper had had enough of that nonsense and founded the Avant Chamber Ballet, forever dedicated to using only live musical accompaniment to all performances.
Since its founding, Avant has inspired a return to live music. The Texas Ballet Theater restored its live orchestra in 2014, and numerous other prominent Dallas area dance companies such as the Bruce Wood Dance Project, the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, and Southern Methodist University’s dance groups also now mostly use live music again.
For dancers, there are several fundamental differences between performing to live and recorded music. On the obvious side of the spectrum, the repeatability of recorded music allows dancers to memorize the tempo and know exactly what’s coming, but live music sometimes brings the challenge of human error and changing paces. That interaction between dancer and musician also allows an adaptability based on what’s happening in the moment.
Recorded music is often played at a louder volume than live music and comes from ceiling mounted speakers rather than an orchestra pit below.
“Canned music sounds flat,” Avant music director David Cooper, who is married to Katie Cooper, explained to the Dallas Morning News. “People are kind of on autopilot. It might look clean, but it’s not exciting. I go to live performances to see something I haven’t seen before.”
It also seems like the dancers like the additional challenge and the required presence of mind in the moment. As Avant dancer Emily Dixon says, “When you know what the tempo is going to be, you don’t have to think as much, you don’t have to listen as much, you can go into a routine. Live music pulls out a vulnerability and a risk taking in you, and you discover new things about yourself that you may not know.”
From the audience experience to live music’s ability to push dancers to new heights, live music is clearly superior to recorded music in performance. Dallas’ dance scene is better for it. Also, I’m willing to bet you like dancing to live music better than recorded music as well. I know I do (or at least the arm thrashing and body flailing I pretend to call dance).
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