Music tells story in 'From Heart to Quill'

  • Michael-Lang

    Michael Lang

  • Michael Lang
    Michael Lang

    Michael Lang says he didn't set out to create a ballet based on the history of music.

    But that seemed to be exactly what From Heart to Quill,Toledo Ballet's 2014 spring show would deliver, until a partial viewing of a rehearsal set this writer straight.

    Ready to premiere at 7:30 p.m. today and return at 7:30 p.m.Saturday in the Valentine Theatre, the production is set to music by composers from anonymous Medieval monks to 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon.

    And it does follow the development of Western classical music over centuries.

    But it's so much more than that.

    Two years in the making, From Heart to Quill attempts to make manifest Lang's complex and passionate view of how music comes into being.

    "The story is the music, the journey of the music, from composer to sheet music and out into the world," he said last week.

    His medium is choreography spanning classical ballet to contemporary, hip hop, and beyond.

    Typical of Lang's previous works, From Heart to Quill is multimedia, with music, dance, and interactive set pieces, an artistic overreach guaranteed to spark a full range of reactions.

    New in this ambitious project will be some dramatic acting by company members, plus live musicians performing onstage near the dancers.

    With cues from traditional Western music notation, the entire show will be in black and white: black notes on white paper, white quills, a white piano, and more, thanks to stage designer Jim Hill's work.

    Dancers will wear black and white in various costumes developed by TBA costumer Doris Piercefield.

    But the effects will be a rainbow of sensory stimulation, no doubt.

    Composers such as Vivaldi, Mozart, John Cage, and Leonard Bernstein will come to life as if during their deepest creative struggles. The notes they hammer out of their imaginations will move about the stage, sometimes as literal instruments or as notes on a staff.

    The depth of detail and background Lang packs into segments reaching from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century is impressive.

    "I did a lot of reading," he said. "I don't intend the show to be didactic; I'm not a music historian myself. I love music. It's the motivation that makes me want to move."

    Ironically, he adds, "I can't even remember what initially sparked this idea."

    Whatever it was, that spark lit a fire which continued to smolder even recently, as Lang worked with his large cast and guest dancers, plus advanced students from the Toledo Ballet School.

    Creating the work was very 1960s group process, an approach Lang favors whenever possible, a development detailed over the last year on a Facebook page named for the production.

    "I love collaborations," said Lang, 46, marketing and outreach coordinator for the TBA as well as in house producer.

    This year, he invited the Toledo Symphony String Quartet to perform selections as part of three sections in the show.

    '€˜From Heart to Quill'€™ premieres tonight at the Valentine Theatre.
    '€˜From Heart to Quill'€™ premieres tonight at the Valentine Theatre.

    Plus, Thomas Stuart, a noted young violinist pursuing a music career in college (and brother to Elizabeth, a dancer) will play a movement from a Bach Partita onstage.

    Some of the selected works were inspired by dances of their time: a Renaissance Galliard, for example, and the Allemande from the Bach Partita.

    Clearly, the intertwining of sound and movement is fundamental to our artistic heritage, and Lang explores it.

    Lang, who started dance classes before elementary school, and performed on Broadway and major stages around the country before landing in Toledo, wanted to explore the impact of music from two directions.

    "Act I is about how music changed the world," he explained. "Act II is how the world changed music."

    World events, styles and trends, the rise and fall of artistic freedom can be seen in his depictions of music by Beethoven, Erik Satie, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass.

    One of the most powerful segments is based on Stravinsky's explosive Rite of Spring debut in Paris in 2013..

    Indeed ,there are even parts for Music Critics in several of the latter sections.

    "I included the critics because I think that's part of the interaction – the people who love you and those who don't. If someone tells Mozart the has too many notes, he may react and write something else,"said Lang.

    Lang says he hasn't started on his next project yet. But fans of his multi-sensory approach to dance productions should stay tuned. And keep checking Facebook.

    Tickets for From Heart to Quill are $17-$37 at or 419-242-2787.