Where Classical Music Meets Boxing

03/13/2013 4:00 AM |


The new-music collective International Street Cannibals presents on Saturday March 16 STRIKE!, a mixture of chamber music, dance and boxing that will be performed at famous Gleason’s Gym in DUMBO. We spoke to ISC director Dan Barrett about the event—how he convinced the boxing gym to sign on, how boxing relates to music, and how dance pulls it all together.

What do boxing and chamber music have in common?
The practice and performance of both boxing and music require the practitioner to be inculcated with a historic technique, without which the artist of either art would be helpless. As the neglect of any kind of technique in boxing can have serious consequences, boxing is one of the more powerful paradigms of art, in performance and in practice.

How the heck did you come up with the idea to put them together?
One of the first prompts to combine fine arts with boxing stemmed from my own readings in theater history. Jacques Copeau, the founder of Theatre du Vieux-Columbier, had a strong interest in the boxing ring—its dimensions, its iconography, its lighting. The idea that Copeau wished for, generally, in his performances of verse drama—for the textual and acoustical clarity of chamber music—conflated in my mind with the idea of performing the works of the tradition that I loved so well within the dimensions and symbology of the boxing ring. All of the above ideas, combined, were the first spurs to entertaining the idea of combining boxing and chamber music.

How did you get Gleason’s Gym to sign on?
It took very little persuasion: Bruce Silverglade, the gym’s president, is an active supporter of the arts and a promoter of education. He’s aware that, for instance, in the case of most young boxing students, their exposure to music is often limited to certain kinds of popular music; he sees STRIKE! as a vehicle by which they can be exposed to chamber music and contemporary instrumental music. Bruce’s involvement with education touches several areas: the kids who train at Gleason’s are required to have their homework addressed, and it isn’t uncommon to see a kid being tutored at the gym itself. Moreover, Bruce sees this storied boxing gym as the last of New York’s community centers, at which individuals from many walks of life interact and share a common space.

How does dance tie it all together?
In early stages of society, dance, music and gesture were necessary to ritual and were really part of the same unified but multiform expression. The dance, as is the boxing, are superb expressions of Dynamism, wherein a phenomena is distinguished by the forces which it has created, and by which forces it is surrounded—this was an idea fascinating to the Futurist movement at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially to Umberto Boccioni.

In my performances, dance is a flexible demarcation of dynamic space. For the role of envisioning and executing dance as a “translation” of the music and kinetics of the boxing, Dance Director Megan Sipe of Dancing Fish Productions has been a counterpart to my own work.

What are you hoping audiences to take away from this evening?
The audience, consisting as it is of several kinds of combined audiences, usually takes from the performance the notion of the sport as an art; similarly, the music and dance will, by the part of the audience oriented to sports, be viewed in the rigorous light of athletics.

In combining such seemingly disparate genres, the crowd at STRIKE! is unusually diverse: the series derives much of its fundamental vitality from such a mix; everyone gets to learn a little about the other’s “world.” From this odd coupling, STRIKE! creates a perceptual apparatus where music has a chance to be seen in the light of explosive engagement—both physical and interpersonal—while boxing is encountered in the light of chamber music.