A Cosmic Collaboration in Dance and Music

The following is a sponsored post by UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance.


One might say that kismet played a hand in codifying the collaboration between Wilco’s acclaimed percussionist Glenn Kotche and Danielle Agami, artistic director of AteNine Dance Co. Consider that she was introduced to Kotche for the first time 24 hours after she decided to name her latest piece “calling glenn.” The piece was named after an AteNine donor, Glenn Kawasaki, one of the company’s first supporters. 

And then she met the other Glenn.

The two artists, who were brought together by arts philanthropist Catharine Soros, were orbiting very different artistic planets. Until their stars aligned.  “It was immediately clear that we could and should work together,” said Agami.

calling glenn | Cheryl Mann AteNine
calling glenn | Cheryl Mann

The resulting full-length work “calling glenn” makes its Los Angeles debut for one night only at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) at Royce Hall, UCLA, Saturday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. Co-commissioned by Catharine & Jeffrey Soros, Jill Steinberg and The Johnson Foundation, “calling glenn” exposes the complexities of intimacy and communication within personal, daily routines.  UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance is the second presenter for “calling glenn.” In March 2017, the work debuted in Seattle, Wash., with Seattle Theatre Group and Velocity Dance Center.

Kotche, who performs live on stage alongside 10 AteNine dancers for 60-minutes with no intermission, composed the score from a “massive palette” of sounds and percussion.  “It goes from beautiful and melodic material to completely unconventional bombastic drumming, and very unusual sounds that people definitely have never heard before,” he said.

To begin with, Kotche’s standard drum set has been embellished with mini hi-hats, spiral cymbals, bull roarers, bird calls, wind chimes, hand drums, a vibraphone and glockenspiel. 

And that’s the traditional fare.

Glenn Kotche at a rehearsal | Courtesy of AteNine Dance Company
Glenn Kotche at a rehearsal | Courtesy of AteNine Dance Company

His imaginative composition also draws upon a variety of “homemade, customized non-percussion implements” to create “bizarre sounds” at certain points in the performance, including noises that come from kitchen utensils, bowls, drink mixers, springs and rods, children’s toys, plant hangers and necklaces.  He’ll also utilize two multi-pads loaded with electronic percussion sounds and other customized sound samples.

Agami's choreography, rooted in the Gaga movement language developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, embraces the complex score by alternating sharp, punctuated moves with languid fluidity. The movement represents the gamut of human emotion we feel throughout our daily lives, she said.

Get a sneak Peek of "calling glenn" | Courtesy of AteNine Dance Company
Danielle Agami | Courtesy of AteNine Dance Company
Danielle Agami | Courtesy of AteNine Dance Company

Agami, who founded L.A.-based contemporary dance company AteNine in 2012, is a formidable choreographer whose work has been commissioned worldwide. One of her collaborations with L.A. Dance Project was “Invisible Cities,” an avant-garde opera for headphones produced by The Industry and turned into an Emmy-winning documentary on KCET.  

Yet her experience with Kotche was unique. “My meeting Glenn was quite crucial to my career,” Agami says, who in the past had found it challenging to work with a composer who could artistically complement her distinctive movement. “Glenn can look at something and recognize that (the music) is amplifying what we see or covering what we see.  I have this really free path of communication with him, and it’s easy for us to agree on things as artists, which is rare to find. I always want to make sure that the movement stands alone and I feel like Glenn is the same with his work.  He identifies noise and sound in a very pure way, and when he puts them together for a piece of music it’s very precious.”

​Kotche, the rhythmic anchor in Grammy-winning band Wilco since 2001, says his history playing in a rock band played a big part in knowing how to navigate artistic waters with Agami.  “I’m in a rock band with five guys who have been touring for over 20 years. You can’t do that unless you know how to compromise and feed a big picture.  The whole takes precedent, and sometimes it’s not only about what you want to see.”

Watch the Artbound episode on "Invisible Cities."

Kotche has shown wide versatility as a percussion soloist with more than 80 recordings with a number of different artists ranging from Jim O’Rourke and Phil Selway to Kronos Quartet and Sō Percussion. But until the idea was hatched by Soros to consider working with a choreographer on a dance commission, Kotche had never been moved to do so.

“I felt this liberation,” Kotche said. “I was just blown away by the movement first of all. But I could tell it was speaking to me artistically--not playing it safe and trying to push boundaries.”  He added: “My whole musical life has been about movement and sound.  On the drum set it’s the most physical instrument there is to play.  Every motion and technique, every direction I come at with what speed, what intensity, everything — how my body balances affects how I sound — so I can relate to dance on that level for sure, but also I think this is the music I’m interested in making right now.”

It’s clear that despite which “Glenn” can claim the naming rights to the piece, Agami and Kotche’s calling will extend beyond this inaugural work.  Already they’ve created and mounted a new production tied to Agami’s recent Princess Grace award for Choreography. She chose Kotche to partner with her on a piece, “Pick A Chair” with the Visceral Dance Co. in Chicago for the commission earlier this year.    

But meanwhile, both are excited to introduce Los Angeles to their dynamic artistic chemistry. Agami added: “The journey is rich for the audience to explore. The uniquely expressive physicality of both the dancers and Kotche on the drum set, along with sounds and shapes in the piece help us to discover a wide source of sensations, commenting on human behavior and social culture.”

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“calling glenn” is choreographed by Danielle Agami with original composition by Glenn Kotche. Costumes are by Eli James with Lighting by Jeff Ford. Funds for this performance provided by the Kevin Jeske Young Artists Fund and Fariba Ghaffari. Additional funds were provided by Murray Hidary in support of CAP UCLA's Artists-in-Residence program. Co-commissioned by CAP UCLA and created as part of its Artists-in-Residence program.

  • Ticket information:  cap.ucla.edu, 310-825-2101 and Ticketmaster
  • Tickets to an intimate VIP performance on NOV 9 @ 8 PM at the Soros residence, “Artists at Home” featuring Danielle Agami, AteNine and Glenn Kotche, please visit here.

Top Image: calling glenn | Cheryl Mann

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