Bringing Bach to life
20 Moons' Anne Bartlett on making the human connection thru dance

Bringing Bach to life

Anne Bartlett

Stephen Sellers - 02/22/2024

Greetings, dear readers! With March on the horizon, the Durango Bach Festival will soon be upon us. Wunderbar! This year, beloved local dance company 20 Moons will be offering a series of innovative, evocative and soul-stirring performances in conjunction with the San Juan Symphony. The shows take place at Stillwater’s brilliant venue, The Lightbox. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry! You’ll integrate parts of your shadow self!

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Anne Bartlett, one of 20 Moon’s artistic directors, to learn more about her story, the upcoming performances and the true power behind the embodied movement we see, or feel, on stage.

SS: Let’s talk about dance as an art form and what makes you passionate about it.

AB: Humans have these mirror neurons. We communicate at a subverbal level. There’s a lot of stuff that’s happening that I’m not saying, and you’re not saying, and we’re just picking up signals. This is so ubiquitous, and we don’t learn about it or think about it. But this is the real way humans resonate with each other – through non-verbal language of the body.

The kind of art I do is geared toward playing off that. I’m really interested in art that helps us understand ourselves. So, if I can express something on stage that helps you understand yourself better, that’s number one. That’s the first connection.

SS: I have severely underestimated dance.

AB: That’s what we’re trying to do. First, can we understand ourselves through reflection back to one another? And, going farther, can I as a dancer help elevate the human experience? How do we be better at being human, being more open, more attuned, more interconnected? That’s our vision in 20 Moons. To help people see themselves … and think: I want to be a little bigger. I’m no longer so small and self-absorbed.

SS: What’s the origin story of 20 Moons?

AB: There were a bunch of us around Durango who had a lot of professional dance experience and/or training. So, we started as a collaborative. Maybe it was like eight people at the beginning in 2012. Meeting my partner Jeroen (van Tyn, executive director at Stillwater Music) was huge on this whole journey. We met in Iowa at a contra dance.

SS: I respect that! A midwestern contra dance is an exceptional place to meet your future partner.

AB: He’s one of those rare musicians who had experience playing music for dance. So, Jeroen got it immediately. We have this thing that we love together, and we have the same kind of vision around this art form. He was 20 Moons’ first musician. Our first performance was just him and a looper pedal.

SS: How many performances has 20 Moons had?

AB: At least two a year since 2012. We’re process-oriented. It takes us months to create a piece. We start with an idea ... and start to play with it. If you grew up in the studio-dance world, the teacher teaches you an external dance and you match it. It’s not coming from inside. The way we work is to let the form arise from what’s happening based on this human experience.

SS: What’s the impact that 20 Moons has had on your lives? How has it helped you make sense of it all?

AB: We have very committed people in 20 Moons. And we are kind of digesting our life through this container of 20 Moons. And we say, “Ok, you’ve got something? Put it in the dance. Bring it to work. Bring your pain, your joy, your suffering, your bliss.” It’s not all roses though, we do have to apply for grants. [laughs.]

SS: I love that part of the “rose” for you is exploring the shadow side of life. Some people would be like, “Nooo! Tell me how to move my hand like you’re doing…”

AB: [laughs] “Let’s go deeper! This is really fun!”

SS: Tell us about the performance, “Facets.”

AB: It’s 13 Bach pieces. It will be a cappella, flute, string and mixtures of that, all arranged by Jeroen. And, we’re thinking about Bach having his life experiences – the joy, the loss. This is a really big shift, because we’re using classical music that’s already composed. It’s profound, and it has a huge history.

We have this history in 20 Moons of co-creating the music and movement together from the beginning. So, that’s a huge shift. We are collaborating with the San Juan Symphony, and Music Director Thomas Heuser has been so gracious and excited. He said, “Let’s say ‘yes’ first and figure out the details later!” 

SS: What would you like to say for yourself?

AB: In order to express what I want to express, I need other people. I think that’s good. Sometimes I feel discouraged about humans and how we hurt each other and the world. Sometimes, that despair makes me want to resign from the human race. But, this art form doesn’t allow me to. It makes me keep showing up, showing up for people and working through the hard stuff to keep learning how to stay connected. How to be human imperfectly and graciously.

“Facets” opens the Bach Festival on March 2 with additional performances March 10, 15, 16 and 17 – all at the Lightbox. Visit www.20moons.com for tickets and more information. ?

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