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Many people are familiar with the tunes of Carol Kaye’s bass lines: It holds down the melody of The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” meanders gracefully in Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” and swings stealthily through the “Mission: Impossible” TV theme song. Over her career, which has spanned over half a century, Kaye has collaborated with such seminal groups as Simon & Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, and Ike and Tina Turner. Yet, she remains largely unknown to the public.
Boston Dance Theater’s (BDT) new program, “Carol Kaye Project,” pays homage to the wildly underappreciated artist, who has left an indelible mark on music.
The performance, which was showcased at ArtLab on Oct. 12 in collaboration with Harvard’s Theater, Dance & Media (TDM) department, was an impressive multimedia undertaking. Four Harvard students from the class TDM 147WC: “Dance and Technology: Womxn Choreographers & Intermedia” celebrated Kaye through their own work, which was also showcased at the event.
The performance opened with a dance choreographed by acclaimed dancer Karole Armitage, titled “Carole/Karole.” In this energetic piece, the dancers moved in bold, sweeping strokes, swinging their arms in a motion evocative of bass-playing. There was a refreshing homemade quality to the event: The set was unfussy and the space was intimate, devoid of any boundary between the audience and the stage.
Armitage is part of an all-female roster of choreographers that the BDT commissioned to create works honoring Kaye. Rena Butler, Rosie Herrera, and Jessie Jeanne Stinnett – the founder and co-director of BDT — also contributed to the “Carol Kaye Project.”
In Butler’s work “For the Record,” the dancers’ gestures were punctuated by Kaye’s voice describing her experience as a female musician in an industry dominated by male voices and guitar-playing.
Midway through the event, Melinda C. Wang ’27 invited the audience to the floor to participate in an improvisational dance activity. The crowd was given many prompts: run, walk, change directions, make a scene, and move in the most joyful way possible. The activity underscored the power of collaboration and experimentation, qualities that are embodied in Kaye’s work as well as in the art of the choreographers and dancers selected to honor her.
The residency between Harvard and BDT was organized by LROD, the Interim Head of Dance, Lecturer in Theater, Dance & Media, Artistic Director of Harvard Dance Project, and Affiliated Faculty with Critical Media Practice at Harvard University.
“We’ve been able to do a lot of research not only with embodied practices, but also our greater connections with intermedia,” LROD said in reference to the class’ residency at ArtLab.
“From AI to installations to projection to screen dance or dance on film, those things have just really resonated with them. And that they can do it and that they have those skills. But they also have all that embodied knowledge from being dancers, from being practitioners or musicians. So that has really been exciting to see.”
Stinnett’s choreographed work “Legacy,” the final dance of the performance, was set to an original song featuring richly layered basslines by her brother Grant Sinnett.
Stinnett then asked the audience to contribute to the performance by choosing a song from Kaye’s discography that the dancers responded to with an improvised dance.
There was an inherent visceral vulnerability apparent in the improvisational dances. Telling a story with other people, all at once, takes patience and trust and awareness. Even more so when the story requires tossing people in the air and catching them gracefully.
Overall, “Carol Kaye Project” was an inspiring glimpse into the artistic relationships fostered between Harvard and the larger artistic community of Boston and was a testament to the power of collective remembering.
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