An Interview with Lee Kesselman on “Jolere”

What was the inspiration behind Jolere?

I first became aware of Rene’s work a few years ago when one of her works popped up in a Facebook ad. It just so happened to be advertising a gallery opening with her work in River North that same evening, so I decided to attend. I instantly fell in love with her pieces. They all had a figure without a distinctive face, but still had certain feminine traits to them that really told a beautiful story. These pieces spoke to me very much, and they suggested movement and music to me that I really wanted to write.

Around the same time, I met Alternative Motion Project choreographer Joanna Lees for coffee and showed her Rene’s work. I proposed a collaborative project between Joanna, Rene and myself and she agreed. It was at this time that Jolere was born.

What was the collaboration process like with Joanna Lees, Alternative Music Project and Rene Romero Schuler?

We started out by picking five of Rene’s paintings that spoke to us the most. After that, Joanna and I then used these as inspiration for our own respective crafts. One of the most interesting aspects about our collaboration is that Joanna works a lot with improvisation, while I typically do not. It created such a unique process that really made for distinctive and creative pieces. We started out working separately on our own, with Joanna creating three movement pieces without music, while I created three songs without seeing any choreography from her. After finishing these pieces, we came together to see each other’s work and used the other works as inspiration for our following pieces. It was really quite lovely and inspiring.

Have you worked on any other similar projects in the past, whether in topic or in performance nature?

Before working on Jolere, I had worked with Kanopy Dance Company in Madison, WI to create original music for one of their pieces. While there, however, I was not nearly as involved in the process as I have been for Jolere. Of course, as a conductor and collaborative pianist, much of my life’s work has involved collaboration, whether with singers or instrumentalists whom I conduct, with choreographers or stage directors in theatrical productions, or singers whom I accompany. And every composition project is a collaborations — with the librettist for my two operas, with poets whose words I set to music, with the performers or commissioning

partners for whom I write my music. But Jolere has been a fully integrated collaboration from the start. Our work has really fed off each other’s creativity.

What do you hope the audience to leave with after the production?

With this particular piece, there are two things going on at the same time: sheer aesthetic beauty and strong emotions being portrayed. The colors of the projected artwork, the lines and the shape of the dancers and tone of the music really set an absolutely beautiful scene for the show. Where there may not be a traditional “story line” per se, the emotions portrayed through all the elements carries the audience through a very moving and uplifting arc throughout the entire show, allowing them to empathize with the characters. The main character experiences a great deal and is transformed through the work. I hesitate to get any more specific, and not just because of spoilers… we want the audience to take away their own story from the piece. A lot of their emotions will also depend on what they bring into the theater with them, and that is one of the most beautiful aspects of this show.