Kenneth Frazelle’s music for Still/Here received widespread acclaim during the two years the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co. performed the multimedia dance work all over the world, stunning audiences with its penetrating exploration of mortality. Frazelle’s music for “Still,” the first half of the work, was performed by the Lark String Quartet, folksinger Odetta and percussionist Bill Finizio. Alan M. Kriegsman, a Washington Post reviewer, wrote that the music for “Still” “makes one think of the late Beethoven string quartets and their otherworldly perfection.” New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote that Frazelle’s score had a “spiritual resonance” and “lyric beauty.”
Incorporating choreography by Bill T. Jones and video by Gretchen Bender, Still/Here is based on interviews and movement workshops conducted with people living with terminal illness. Frazelle went through hundreds of hours of videotapes from the workshops to shape lyrics from people of every age, color and gender. The eight songs of “Still” explore introspection, denial, fear and panic, yet ultimately are defiant and life-affirming. In the frenetic and pulsing “Eyes I,” a person learns of his diagnosis merely by looking into the eyes of his physician. “Eyes II,” for solo cello and voice, depicts a quiet moment of introspection following a diagnosis.
Writing in Newsweek, Laura Shapiro hailed Still/Here as “a work so original and profound that its place among the landmarks of 20th-century dance seems ensured.” The work was filmed for television here and abroad and was the subject of a documentary by Bill Moyers. The piece became a lightning rod of critical controversy when New Yorker dance critic Arlene Croce wrote an article condemning it as “victim art” without having ever seen it. Today Still/Here is included in countless histories of dance and continues to be debated among critical studies scholars.
Ten years after Still/Here’s original run, the work was revisited as part of the 20th anniversary of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co. at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In The Phantom Project: Still/Here Looking On, Jones shortened the original work and added narration exploring his own response to the controversy surrounding Still/Here. A fourteen-month tour took the piece around the world once again. Music from “Still” was sung by jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson.
“Because of the emotional content of the material, I originally chose Odetta for the vernacular feel she would bring to the music, and Cassandra Wilson continued that tradition,” says Frazelle, who has composed works for such vocal luminaries as Dawn Upshaw and Jan DeGaetani. “Although I am a classical composer, I decided early on that I wanted the piece to be open to multiple stylistic interpretations, so I chose not to make it tightly notated.” The songs can be sung by any type of singer.
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