When Hollis Bartlett began attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 2007, the modern-dance faculty urged students to explore the relationship between composed music and dancing. Coming from a studio that typically used popular tunes or songs with lyrics, rather than scores by Philip Glass or John Cage, Bartlett found this valuable, yet challenging. "Now, as an artist I can fight that rule," says Bartlett, who's danced with Doug Varone and Dancers for seven years.
When he's teaching at Gibney Dance Center in New York City, Bartlett pairs his downtown postmodern style of movement with music that inspires him. "I try not to make those weird, obscure choices," he says. "I don't want to limit myself."
Whether with recorded tracks or a live accompanist, he starts class with a quiet selection, something atmospheric. This allows dancers to listen to what's going on in their own bodies, he says. As the class progresses and students build heat and awareness, he adds more charged, rhythmic music that pushes dancers forward through space.
Using Spotify and accompanists, who record for class, he searches for music that either supports or, occasionally, contrasts with the choreography. "I like to have fun in class," he says. "Dance is a very communal activity, so I find it's important to engage in different ways with different types of music."
"I enjoy dancing to most alt-J, and this song in particular has a catchy, driving beat perfect for big, traveling movement."
Artist: Son Lux
Song: "Lost It to Trying (Mouths Only Lying)"
"I've found this to be a versatile track in my class, fitting for both my warm-up and also large movement phrases."
Artist: Perfume Genius
Album: Too Bright
"I often match this easy tempo with a phrase that is slow and expansive. The music feels like it's constantly inflating and leaves space to elongate."
Artist: Kid Cudi
Album: Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'
"This song has a steady underlying beat, but I've also really enjoyed riding the melody on top and not being too concerned with counting."
Song: "Forget Forgive"
Album: Chain Reaction
"This song has a haunting, airy quality, and I've enjoyed building material to it that matches those qualities in the body."