When Haiti was rocked by an earthquake in January of 2010, Haitan composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (aka DBR) wanted to respond. Initially, he thought to write a solemn requiem. But after some contemplation, he challenged himself to compose a reverent and rousing celebration of life. More than that, he sought not just to compose something to play on his electric violin, but to include song and dance by gathering up a group of like-minded artists/collaborators.
Thus was born “A Symphony for the Dance Floor.” DBR’s latest work had only its second airing on Sunday night at The Egg. The piece, which includes dancers, a DJ, a singer, video and photography, is still in its infancy and in desperate need of fine-tuning. Yet DBR once again has created a sound that is as electrifying as it is moody.
Drawing from his own life story, DBR has experimented with his violin to deliver some knockout new songs for his 90-minute symphony. Among the best was the heartrending and prayful “I Want to be Something,” sung by local songstress Jill Hughes. This song of longing spoke to the universal desire to want to do something important.
Equally powerful was his spirited title song — which brought down the house with its supercharged sound — and his more sobering, quiet and thoughtful playing that accompanied the commanding photographic images of Jonathan Mannion. DBR also refashioned “My Country ’tis of Thee” into a hymn of hope.
Joining DBR on stage was the distinguished DJ Lord Jamar, who spun and scratched, offering a solid heartbeat to DBR’s large, amplified sound.
Unfortunately, the dancing in “A Symphony for the Dance Floor” was dismal. Led by choreographer Millicent Johnnie, three dancers plus Johnnie were too weak to ride the arc of DBR’s music. Johnnie was fairly competent, in both a video and with DBR in an overly sexual dance with him and his violin. But only Andre Zachery looked like a pro. Part of the problem could have been the sloppy choreography — a mishmash of hip-hop, capoiera, modern dance, jazz, flamenco and African. Johnnie’s dance variations looked unsteady, at a loss as to how to move forward and conclude. But a good dancer can make an even shoddy dance look good. That was not the case here.
Some of the dancing was so inept that it threatens to bring the whole production down. DBR seemed not to notice, joining in with the dancers, sawing away at his violin while on his back, on his knees and in a backbend. It was more distracting than entertaining. “A Symphony for the Dance Floor” needs a seasoned choreographer and better dancers to give it the sheen it deserves because this evening of music could go places.
There were other bits of the symphony that need to go too: one song, in which DBR does a lot of screaming, and the overdone sexual references, such as the violin as phallic symbol. But the remainder of the symphony was a moving promise that life will go on.