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  • Writer's pictureMichele Brangwen


Updated: Feb 27, 2021

"To Your Constant Embrace, The Cloud Stream Sways" is a new 13 minute dance & music film with choreography, editing and costumes by Michele Brangwen and music composed and arranged by Danielle Reich. It will premiere via livestream on Sunday March 7 at 5 p.m. Eastern time on and Sunday March 14 at 5 p.m. Eastern time on The livestreams will include an introduction by Danielle Reich, Michele Brangwen and trumpeter Tim Hagans. Post premiere, the artists will respond on camera to questions and comments.

(You can listen to the text below with Tim Hagans performing live on trumpet on our podcast FLY OVER THE GROOVE. Click here to listen.)

"To Your Constant Embrace, The Cloud Stream Sways" is a new dance & music film that speaks to our current condition of being alone together. It invites the viewer into an overlapping world of interaction across 5 cities in 4 different countries.

When we began this project in October, it seemed like the coming winter months were going to be very difficult. We had just released "Orchid People," a film project that we had created over the spring and summer. I felt like it was really important that we continue to create work together during this time. I wanted to make a work that would be an invitation to release some of the sadness, an invitation to experience a kind of togetherness that comes out of our shared humanity, something comforting and welcoming. Danielle Reich wrote this beautiful song, which she entitled Come, Come," using this poem by Rumi as lyrics. She premiered it as part of one of our live performances in 2019 and I asked her to write an arrangement for the film. While abstract, the poem by Rumi seems to me to be about inclusion and forgiveness, both forgiveness of each other, and forgiveness of ourselves. Raymond Todd, a poet friend of mine, says forgiveness opens the door to love, to unity.

I would like to tell you a story about an evening many years ago that inspired some of the imagery that we used in the dance.

During the second winter following the attacks of September 11, I walked across the chilled streets of Greenwich Village from the East to the Western shore of the sacred Blue Note Jazz Club, companioned by the award-winning filmmaker Peter Josyph. He was in the process of filming a documentary at Ground Zero that would evolve into a powerful testament to the residents and workers who sustained and revived the neighborhood. His work was made all the more important because filming and documentation at and around the site at the time was made illegal by then Mayor Guilliani. Peter was constantly in danger of having his equipment confiscated, but workers and residents realized the significance of his work and enabled his presence at the site. It was an instance where people engaged in a monumental struggle to recover from trauma and accomplish the complex task of cleaning up and rebuilding saw the value of an artist dedicating himself to their story.

We were going to hear saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who had been scheduled to perform at the Blue Note on the night of September 11, when all performances were cancelled. These performances and Lloyd's new recording entitled "Lift Every Voice" were a response to 9/11. Lloyd's band on this night included the elegant Geri Allen on piano and the driving drummer Eric Harland.

On the bandstand, Charles Lloyd talked about the strangeness of New York on that night of September 11 being shuttered tight; he described the striking contrast between the usual effusiveness of people going from venue to venue chasing the music, to the streets now deserted of even taxi cabs. He talked about all the sadness and how when he left New York for performances in Paris shortly after those cancelled dates at the Blue Note, he felt he could not find the fingering for the keys on the saxophone.

Charles Lloyd played a long plaintive unaccompanied solo that segued into a powerful and explosive version by his quintet of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." At a time when the national rhetoric was speaking of nothing but the necessity of war, this was a clear message for something very different...for peace, for journeying away from hate. The familiar tune felt like a force of nature engulfing the room. It made me think about the mystical power of art to cultivate understanding in a deep visceral way.

Lloyd introduced "Rabo de Nube," a composition by the Cuban composer Silvio Rodriguez, explaining first that his description was not meant to lessen people's sorrow - I have always remembered that perceptive and sensitive disclaimer. He went on to describe a cloud that comes down to earth and collects all the sadness and then takes it back up to the heavens. His performance of the work descended down into the room, moving between us tightly packed and listening, collecting, sweeping, simple and welcomed.

I drew on the memory of this evening for the imagery in "To Your Constant Embrace, The Cloud Stream Sways."

We normally work with sections of improvisation for the dancers as well as the musicians in our works. "Orchid People," however, had been totally through-choreographed and composed. I had created movement that could be done in a small space so that we could rehearse in our homes. This time I wanted to use a section of movement created in the moment, where the dancers could also use and respond to the space they were being filmed in, and even in rehearsal, when we got to that section in the work, we could use all the nooks and crannies of our spaces, dance into our kitchens and back, to break the feeling of confinement. The musicians were also able to improvise, which is usually a key component of our work. We were able to nudge the confines of working digitally in layers one step closer to the feeling of our usual live performance format. That was my hope in the construction of this project.

In the choreography there are a movements that suggest a collecting and releasing, most noticeably in what the hands do as the body is moving through space. I described for the dancers the image of the cloud that sweeps up these feelings of sadness, of anxiety, and releases them. I explained that we were in a sense like great air purifiers, and suggested this as the thematic focus for the improvisation section.

We realized when we began this project that two dancers would be out of the country helping family members in need; these acts of love on their part would result in them filming themselves where they were, thus giving the film dramatically different locations. I encouraged them to experiment and trust their vision for framing their dancing. The footage that they sent me was so beautiful, visually rich, with exciting and creative movement. I also asked them to at some point get close to the camera, in this way becoming close to the viewer. I am always so taken my dancers' ability to improvise so poetically and so strikingly. What they bring to each work we do together is unique and powerful.

So many threads of beautiful energy began to spin from that evening at the Blue Note for me all those years ago. The music from the performance helped to ultimately change the trajectory of my work as an artist. I was a young choreographer then and my work tended toward the celebratory, and sometimes perhaps what one might consider the more palatable sentiments of longing and mystery. While those elements still have a place in my work, that night set me on a journey that would eventually lead to my addressing complicated and politically charged issues in my work.

Peter Josyph's film LIBERTY STREET: ALIVE AT GROUND ZERO went on to win many awards. It was heralded as a very important film. Time Out New York wrote it was a "must see for all Americans."

After the performance, standing upstairs at the Blue Note, I saw Stanley Crouch, the writer and columnist, leaning against the wall, talking with Geri Allen. Years later I would formally meet Stanley and we would become friends, sharing many a meal and an evening out to hear music or see dance. I recounted to him that evening and what it meant to me, and he remembered it also very clearly; the music, the energy. Out of the sadness, the fabric of humanity was still spinning itself, connecting and enveloping, collecting us to itself in the sweetness of community. And now years later, out of the sadness, I offer this new work. Not to lessen anyone's loss, but as a bit of comfort and togetherness. A diaphanous and momentary HEPA filter for the emotional self.

"To Your Constant Embrace, The Cloud Stream Sways" is performed by dancers

Yuritzi Govea, Robin Gilbert, Cristian Laverde Konig & Michele Brangwen

Danielle Reich, voice; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Thomas Helton, double bass

Anders Mogensen, drums.

Images: Top to bottom: Yuritzi Govea, Tim Hagans, Cristian Laverde Konig.

Below: Yurizt Govea, Cristian Laverde Koing, Tim Hagans, Thomas Helton

Danielle Reich, Robin Gilbert, Anders Mogensen, Michele Brangwen


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