Cincinnati Enquirer Infamous Love Songs preview

Over The Rhine + ballet

Bergquist and Detweiler's music will set a different kind of dancer in motion

Written by: David Lyman | Enquirer contributor

Over The Rhine - the band, not the neighborhood - has always been difficult to pigeonhole. It's blues, a smidgen of jazz and a little moody folk. But its sound is elusive. An unattributed description bobbing around the Internet defines OTR's music as "post-nuclear, pseudo-alternative, folk-tinged art-pop." Not a bad description.

What you won't read anywhere, though, is that it's "ballet music."

That changes next weekend, when the group - Karin Bergquist, Linford Detweiler and a handful of other musicians - step onto the Aronoff stage to accompany the Cincinnati Ballet's "Infamous Love Songs," named for a piece on OTR's current "Long Surrender" album.

An unlikely pairing? Oh, yeah. An ever-so-cool music group that has spent two decades skittering along just this side of major stardom and a ballet company.

But the pairing is even more unlikely considering that the ballet's artistic director, Victoria Morgan, had never heard of the group until the idea of using their music came up.

"I'm in my own little world of classical music," Morgan said. "So very often, I don't know a lot about what groups are hip or happening."

But Missy Zimmer, co-director of Cincinnati's Exhale Dance Tribe, mentioned OTR to Morgan and shared a few recordings with her.

"I was so moved," says Morgan. "The idea of having that voice - Karin's voice - with our dancers . . . well, I really didn't know if we could make it happen."

What Morgan didn't know is that Bergquist and Detweiler would be both flattered and intrigued by the opportunity to perform with the ballet.

So Bergquist - an enthusiastic supporter of the ballet - performed with the company as part of its New Work program last September. It wasn't a long piece. A teaser, really. But if there had been any doubt about the match, it disappeared then and there. The probing intimacy of OTR's music was a lush and sensuous fit for the choreography by Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard, her Exhale co-director.

"It was such a poignant work," says Morgan. "It made me cry every time. It was so surprisingly beautiful."

Other choreographers on next weekend's program are Devon Carney, the Cincinnati Ballet's associate artistic director and Donald Byrd, director of Seattle's Spectrum Dance Theatre.

For Detweiler, though, ballet is a reminder of a professional milestone, the moment when music ceased being a hobby and became the passion that would shape his career and, for that matter, the rest of his life.

While a student at Canton's Malone College, Detweiler played for the Canton Ballet at a few ballet classes.

"I loved it," says Detweiler. "I love the idea of bodies beginning to move when the music starts. It's really intoxicating and exciting. And the Canton Ballet had a great, serious artistic environment."

He was so intrigued, in fact, that he was tempted to take a class.

"I was intrigued by the physicality of it, but . . . " He hesitates and laughs sheepishly. "I never did. I just stayed in my little safety zone behind the keyboard. But I still wonder what the experience might have been like."

He was, apparently, quite successful in what he did do. The Canton Ballet offered him a position as company pianist.

"I remember that day vividly," says Detweiler. "I was so excited to be asked. That job represented the end of non-music career. I've never worked a straight job since then. When they offered it to me, I went to the hardware store where I was working part-time and resigned. I can honestly thank ballet for the beginning of my career as a professional musician.

"So I can't really express how much I'm looking forward to doing this with the Cincinnati Ballet. It completes a circle for me. When I saw Karin perform with the company, there was something mysterious and wonderful that happened on the stage. I don't know if I can completely explain or analyze it. But the bodies moving with the music was amazing to watch.

"In fact, the only thing that I wonder about is if we'll be able to stop watching the dancers and keep our minds on the task at hand."