Allie Cooper and her musical collaborators will perform as part of the TEDx Santa Cruz conference Saturday, Sept. 15, at Cabrillo College's Crocker Theatre.
When the list of events for TEDx Santa Cruz’s second year came out, there was one that was completely unexpected.
Sandwiched into the very TED-esque list of speakers was the collaboration between Santa Cruz aerialist Allie Cooper, local electronic artist and producer LoWGritt, and San Francisco MC Sight on the Mic.
But everything that made it wrong for TEDx is what made it perfect for TEDx.
“That’s one of the reasons they reached out to us,” says LoWGritt, a.k.a. Logan Gritton. “They said it was so unlike the stuff they normally do, and they’re always trying to re-invent themselves. They thought it’d be kind of edgy to have a modern dance aerial piece with hip-hop music.”
That’s far from the strangest in the series of unlikely developments that ultimately led to this collaboration. They actually stretch back years, to when LoWGritt and Sight first came to work together.
“I actually met him because I found one of his old albums on the ground at a party,” remembers LoWGritt. “I listened to it and was like, ‘Wow, this guy’s really talented.’ And we have a lot of mutual friends, so we started hanging out.”
Then a year and half ago, Cooper and LoWGritt met at the Raindance Festival, an annual rave now held in Sonoma County after coming out of the Santa Cruz underground. They started going out, and then began working together, combining her rope art with his music. For their TEDx collaboration, they worked together closely on letting the choreography influence the music, and vice versa.
“Music always plays a role in evoking a certain emotion or tone of a piece,” says Cooper. “But it’s been nice to work with Logan, because if I need something specific, like a certain downbeat at a certain time, he can put that in there. It’s kind of a collaboration when I’m sorting out my choreography. I’m not just bound by a song’s structure.”
“We’ve been working on the music together and she’s been giving me a lot of input. Then we sat down together and thought of where the vocals might fit best,” says LoWGritt.
Giving a hip-hop MC room to work in a piece already centered around aerial choreography and a musical soundscape isn’t easy. But instead of drowning one part out with another, or isolating them entirely, the trio chose to create spaces for each other—Cooper, for instance, might suddenly stop on the rope for a moment, leaving enough room for eight bars of vocals, and then launch into a new series of movements.
“It’ll be like a conversation,” she says.
LoWGritt also had to adjust his approach, which usually involves pounding out beats for the dance floor, and his levels.
“I wanted this to be more subtle, leaving room for her to express herself without the music being overpowering,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be too bass heavy or too drum heavy. I left a lot of open parts with just a couple sound tidbits here and there. I think it’ll work well with the spoken word.”
Yet another improbable step toward this collaboration came when TEDx organizer David Warren happened to see a video of Cooper’s aerial work, and decided she’d be perfect for the event. When he learned that there was the potential to add live music and vocals, he was even more excited.
Warren gave them the theme of “openness” to work with, a curve ball that inititally threw them a little off balance, as all good TED ideas do. But they quickly recovered, and for Cooper the theme came to mean something very important to her.
“My first interpretation of openness is the sense of vulnerability you have when you’re in the air,” she says. “You’re up there and it’s just you, so there’s this sense of vulnerability and being open to the world.”
Adding to that is the fact that she plans to perform the first part of the piece blindfolded. Which would seem to add a ridiculous level of difficulty to the already demanding feat of performing on a rope in the air. But Cooper, who began training and performing as an aerialist five years ago after moving to Santa Cruz, is looking forward to it.
“I find it actually helps me with my movement quality, because not being able to see makes me move a lot slower, like I’m moving through the water. Without the blindfold, during any performance I tend to sort of rush my movement. The blindfold just sort of halts that. You have to be extra sure,” she says.
While the idea of mid-air suspension may give some people the jitters, Cooper thinks this performance will demonstrate how her art—like TEDx itself—is good for the brain.
“Once you get past the physicality of it—the sheer amount of work it is—it’s really meditative,” she says. “You really have to think about what you’re doing. It’s very analytical. Especially rope. A lot of the disciplines, like the fabric and some of the other ones, are more showy. But rope I feel is very zen.”
The TEDx Santa Cruz conference will be hald Saturday, Sept. 15, from 10am to 5 pm at the Crocker Theater at Cabrillo College.