Andrew Walker's laptop plays the full arrangement while he fingers his electric keyboard, adding the chords and high melodic figures to a gentle descending progression in 4/4 time and a minor key. The dancers react with quick turns and kicks and arches and lunges, rotating around the studio, pairing up, then separating.
If you go
'Mannequin: The American Dream' and Dancefx Adult Spring Concert
WHEN: 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Sottile Theatre, 44 George St.
COST: General admission tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door; tickets for both "Mannequin" and the 7:30 Dancefx Adult Spring Concert are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
MORE INFO: www.entropyarts.com/mannequin/
Jail Break: Optical Delusions
WHEN: April 26
WHERE: Old City Jail (American College of the Building Arts), 21 Magazine St.
COST: $15 in advance, $20 at the door
MORE INFO: www.jailbreakcharleston.com
The routine will be part of an upcoming show, "Mannequin: The American Dream," and the group is refining it, with choreographers Jenny Broe and Sara Cart looking on.
With Walker in the room, they can better synch up the rhythms and movement, and they can tweak things as required. This kind of collaboration is always a dynamic work in progress.
"We can make choices together," Walker says.
He is the founder of an experimental enterprise that includes a band (Entropy Ensemble) and a presenting organization (Entropy Arts).
Both are taking part in Charleston's slowly developing embrace of contemporary, experimental forms of artistic expression.
And the latest offering, a performance called "Mannequin: The American Dream," is the latest manifestation of this exploratory sensibility. It's a high-concept collaboration between the Entropy Ensemble and the Charleston Dance Project, a professional troupe connected with Dancefx Charleston, which is presenting the show Friday and Saturday at the Sottile Theatre.
It's not the first time Entropy and Charleston Dance Project has partnered. In 2012, they put together a piece called "Ebb and Flow," and the dancers have been involved in all the Jail Break presentations at the Old City Jail downtown.
It is an example of how creative collaborations can provoke new ways of approaching performance and engaging audiences.
Pushing at the edges
In thermodynamics, the term "entropy" refers to the measure of systemic disorder. In art, it signifies a heartfelt willingness on the part of musicians and dancers to let things break free of accepted boundaries.
That happens in several ways, according to Walker. The sounds produced by the band can be somewhat improvisatory (though the underlying structure is predetermined). Movement that often accompanies the music also can be unorthodox. And the nature of the presentation, the collaborative approach, can lend itself to innovative combinations that might be construed as avant-garde.
Entropy Arts is perhaps a product of a changing Charleston, an arts town increasingly willing to entertain challenging presentations, whether conceptual, avant-garde, improvisatory or utterly unfamiliar.
In recent years, the jazz scene has become a real force in the city, drawing more and more patrons to large and small gigs replete with imaginative new arrangements and constant experimentation.
Charleston's New Music Collective, formed in 2005, is "devoted to developing a community around contemporary music." Run by percussionist Ron Wiltrout, it serves as a kind of vortex attracting musicians, composers and adventurous audiences looking for an out-of-the-ordinary concert experience.
The Magnetic South concert series, produced by the College of Charleston's music program and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, presents two concerts a season featuring recent and newly commissioned compositions by living composers.
In the dance realm, Dancefx seems to be all over the place, sometimes presenting relatively traditional performances, but often trying out new things. In December, its dancers, led by Stephanie Burg and Sara Cart, realized a risky idea with "Find the Moment," an improvisatory spectacle that used Redux Contemporary Art Center as a stage and an art installation by James Brendan Williams as a stage set. Dancers and musicians performed in the gallery among standing spectators, in close proximity.
The visual arts, too, have been subject to some risk-taking. Redux has established a reputation for showcasing new, often conceptual, works by young artists. And the Halsey Institute almost always goes out on a ledge, sharing odd discoveries with enthusiastic patrons.
This is the hip scene that Entropy Arts is trying hard to leverage. In so doing, it's adding its own voice to a growing chorus of contemporary creators.
It began in 2007 when Walker, a College of Charleston music major, started producing events. The first one was a chamber concert featuring transcriptions of Radiohead music.
It was "genre-bending," he says, and well-received. It hinted at a wider opportunity.
The following year, Walker organized "Fitter Happier," a benefit concert to raise money for breast cancer. The Sottile Theatre filled up. So now he's thinking Charleston could be a good place to present such stuff, he says.
In 2009, he established Entropy Ensemble. It was time to "plow the field," he says, "to develop audience allegiance." The mission of the band, which consisted of piano (Walker), cello (Lonnie Root), violin (Javier Orman), bass (Ben Wells) and drums (Stuart White), was to blur musical genres.
Orman, who was classically trained, raised the bar, Walker says. The band toured with Duncan Sheik. It started to gain a following.
"People get it, even if they can't categorize it," Walker says.
More gigs and collaborations soon followed, and the group's work with the Charleston Dance Project proved especially rewarding, he said. Together, they started trying new things, asking questions.
"Typically, music drives dance," Walker notes. "But what if it was the other way around?" Or what if music and movement informed each other, simultaneously?
Jenny Broe, Dancefx executive director and artistic director of the Charleston Dance Project, met Walker during the Jail Break event in the fall of 2011 when they first collaborated. That led to "Ebb & Flow" in 2012, followed by the first Charleston Dance Festival and other shows.
The new production, "Mannequin," is a set of three vignettes, each with a narrative that subverts popular conceptions of success. The first is about self-image and the individual, Broe said. The second concerns our attitudes toward the workplace. The third is about love and family.
The show employs three main characters and 21 dancers, and will include video projections and spoken-word recitations.
Broe and Sara Cart have choreographed the work. Rehearsals have been difficult, Broe says. There are tons of transitions, complicated sequences and always the need to coordinate with Entropy Ensemble.
Cart says they've been working on the choreography for a couple of months. It began with a "layout," the basic concept for each of the three vignettes. Then details were added and the work of the two choreographers was blended together.
At Tuesday's rehearsal, the dancers are getting it together nicely; Broe and Cart look tired but pleased. As Walker plays that descending sequence over and over, the moves become more efficient, more expressive. And then it's time to stop.
"Don't forget any of it," Broe beseeches the company. "And keep it tight!"
"Mannequin" is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Sottile Theatre.
On its heels comes Jail Break 7 on April 26. The title of this edition is "Optical Delusions," and it features a plethora of performers and visual artists who occupy the Old City Jail (American College of the Building Arts, 21 Magazine St.) for a day and a night.
Each room is uniquely furnished with art and artists. And more action occurs outside of the building. One room will be dedicated to poetry, another to comedy. Fashion exhibits and art installations will abound. Food trucks and an artisan market also will be part of the event.
Walker, who works part-time as a photographer, said he is determined to make Entropy Arts, as a presenting organization and an artistic incubator, succeed.
"I want to make a career doing this," he says. "I want to be in Charleston doing this."
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook/aparkerwriter.
Choreographers Sara Cart (from right), Starla Kurtz and Jenny Broe (also executive director of Dancefx) collaborate during a rehearsal of “Mannequin: The American Dream” at the Dancefx studio.×
Kristen Burgsteiner and Jon-Michael Perry prepare for an upcoming show “Mannequin: The American Dream.”×
Musician Andrew Walker rehearses with dancers for the upcoming show “Mannequin: The American Dream.”×