Inviting Terpsichore and Apollo Back to the Heart

Classicism is not dead as proven by choreographer and director Nancy Paradis and the company members of LA Dance Moves. Back to the Heart is a feature film that documents the creation and filming of an elegant balletic work in three movements. With the intent to reunite music and dance in a shared creative experience, Paradis collaborated with pianist and composer Frederick Keeve in this film project in which the relationship of dance and music as co-creative forces was revisited. 

LA Dance Moves, Back to the Heart. Frederick Keeve at the piano with dancers Chasen Greenwood and Elise Filo. Photo: Scott Edwards Photography

The film opens with a description of the project and brief interviews with each of the artists. We see rehearsal footage of the intimate and emotionally complex duet between Chasen Greenwood and Elise Filo and hear them speak to the process of evoking a story of inspiration, love, and passion through a duet that features Filo en pointe and Greenwood in an open button down shirt. We meet Hannah Barr, Michelle Lebowski, and Damarra Titmus who perform floating pointe work and emotive port de bras in two sections of the work, both of which are set to Keeve’s live improvised piano performance. Then, Akem Harrison speaks to his role in the closing section, Our Light Within, which blends more contemporary and lyrical styling into the classical framework alongside the female trio. Paradis and Keeve comment throughout the film on their emergent process in honoring each other as artists in a shared work. 

A notable strength of the film lies in the excellent performances by the dancers who perform with a strong foundation of Classical ballet technique and emotional conviction. In particular the three female ensemble members, portraying ethereal spirits dressed as Greek muses, perform both set choreography and improvised movement with pristine intention to Keeve’s improvised piano performance which is characteristically full of rubato and swift textural and harmonic changes. To attune fully to the new music while performing choreographed movement is no easy task, and they manage to stay present and perform with technical excellence throughout. 

LA Dance Moves, Back to the Heart (L-R) Damarra Titmus, Hannah Barr, Frederick Keeve, and Michelle Lebowski. Photo: Scott Edwards Photography

Greenwood and Filo’s duet is set to a prerecorded piece of music and thus had an arcing compositional outline with a more structured outcome. Keeve, seated at the grand piano, is still present as part of the work, destabilizing the balance between the two dancers throwing then into a dynamic triangle of emotion. Greenwood and Filo engage in a romantic connection alongside Keeve’s presence as an older refined male who represents perhaps a fatherly figure or in a more abstract take the woman’s love of music and dance that continually takes her away from her partner. The result is a tense and emotionally fraught work in which the three must come to peace with each other and their relationships. The dancers perform beautifully with each other through arabesques, lifts, and unison moments of lyrical extension, leaps, and pirouettes. They unify the performance space by dancing on and around the grand piano, interacting with Keeve through gestures and eye contact, before then retreating to a red armchair that sets the stage. The push and pull between the piano and the red chair offer a visual metaphor for the tug of war over Filo, also dressed in a deep red dress. 

The closing segment of the live performance features Akem Harrison as a struggling individual who is uplifted by the presence of the three muses who buoy him with hope. The elegant and serene women represent an ideal of beauty and grace, through uplifted torsos, lightness, balance, and breath. They offer Harrison a candle as a reminder of his own gifts to share with the world. Harrison’s performance is dynamic and earthy, adding depth to the movement palette of the work as a whole. He contrasts the ethereal women in white dresses, through his use of plié and supple torso articulation. 

LA Dance Moves, Back to the Heart, Frederick Keeve at the piano with soloist Akem Harrison. Photo: Scott Edwards Photography

Throughout the work dancers continually interact with Keeve at the piano. Circling around him, addressing him from behind, sitting next to him, climbing on top of the piano, and connecting with his hands. The effect recreates a familiar image of divine inspiration in the spirit of the classical myths of the Greek muse of dance, Terpsichore, and god of music, Apollo. 

While the idea of music and dance being symbiotic is not a new one as claimed in the film, the logistical difficulties for achieving such a union in today’s world makes this a refreshing return to a largely forgotten relationship. LA Dance Moves’ attempt to revive this age-old tradition is noble. It is all too easy for dance artists to call up a streaming music service and dance to pre-recorded songs, which is what we mostly see today. The financial support systems for live music are no longer in place and digital music is too readily available. The logistics of rehearsing and performing with live music is harrowing. Access to a decent piano and the ability to record it properly is another challenge. Luckily, Wayne Peet honored the lush, rich style of Keeve in his music engineering for the film that captured and remastered the improvisational performance with finesse. 

The documentary and performance was filmed and edited by Jerry Evans with additional behind the scenes footage by Juanito Newell. Paradis’s attention to honoring the artists through her choreography and direction was evident at each step. Overall, Back to the Heart is a call to action that music and dance can continue to navigate new relationships together. It successfully evokes a classical aesthetic to accomplish the endeavor and returns the work to the ancient origins of Western concert dance and music ideals including line, balance, beauty, and grace and a means for renewing the spirit and opening the heart. 

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One Comment on “Inviting Terpsichore and Apollo Back to the Heart”

  1. March 7, 2023 at 2:55 pm #


    This is just exquisite.

    I’m never had my work described in such beautiful detail and understanding….Just amazing! Thank you for putting the time and detail into this review…it truly is a gift to me…the descriptions, the nuances, the described themes both grand and subtle.

    I will share with the cast and put in the Film Freeway /IMBD pages and I’ll do a post. (Where do these reviews “live” on your website or other? )

    I aslo appreciated you sharing that although live music and dance is not a new embarkment… how you described projects of today, streaming music and non-collaboration. I also really appreciated describing the difficulties of actually doing collaboration and logistics it entails because you are right on! ( I literally forgot how challenging it was… Or maybe I blocked it out?)

    You gave validation to my work and concepts and I feel completely honored by this review.

    Beth, Thank you for taking the extra time and care to write this beautiful review 🙏🏻✨

    With warm regards,

    Nancy 💕


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