An Urban Echo: Philadelphia Dance and Choir Connections: Local Chorus and Dance Company Collaborations Featured in International Conference

An Urban Echo: Philadelphia Dance and Choir Connections

Ellen Gerdes, Soprano and Dancer
Ellen Gerdes, Soprano and Dancer


Alan Harler and Leah Stein, the artistic directors of Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and Leah Stein Dance Company, respectively, will discuss their acclaimed creative collaborations during an international meeting of dance faculty and ethnomusicologists in Philadelphia. During the panel presentation on November 19, conductor and artistic director Harler and Stein will share reflections on the creative process behind two of the more innovative artistic collaborations of the past few seasons. Dancer, singer and teacher Ellen Gerdes, a member of both performing organizations, will also be on the panel and share her unique perspective as an artist working in both fields. The panelists will also explore opportunities for community outreach and audience engagement as well as potential university course offerings that encourage a music/dance dialogue.

The three Philadelphia-based artists will discuss two productions: Urban Echo: Circle Told, a structured improvisation based on Pauline Oliveros scores which was presented at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival in 2008, and Battle Hymns, a work set in an old armory to a David Lang commission that was presented at the Hidden City Philadelphia Festival in 2009. The panel, titled An Urban Echo: Philadelphia Dance and Choir Connections, is being presented as part of the joint conference of The Congress on Research in Dance and The Society for Ethnomusicology. Moving Music / Sounding Dance: Intersections, Disconnections, and Alignments between Dance and Music is the name of the conference scheduled for November 17-20 at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel.

Both Urban Echo and Battle Hymns, in the words of Ms. Gerdes, “featured approximately eighty volunteer inter-generational choir members moved with simple gestures and strong presence alongside professional dancers. The final product’s ultimate aesthetic success came from the sheer number of participants and the diversity of body types and ages not typically found on the concert dance stage. The singers moved and the dancers sounded, blurring the Western divisions of song and dance by allowing both to occur in one body. Enacting this integration required significant experimentation and vulnerability of the participants, and translation from both artistic perspectives.”

Ms Stein, the choreographer of these projects, will be discussing how collaborations with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia supports her company’s mission of community involvement in site-specific work and for working with non-trained dancers, allowing their experiences to guide her process in the new space.

As a choral conductor, Mr. Harler had to help the chorus bring to life the composer’s music, which included difficult rhythmic variations, endless repetition and dissonant chord structures. All of which posed a challenge to the choir as they walked and gestured in various spatial configurations. A decision to move the audience closer to the singers during a specific musical movement of Battle Hymns inspired the director to further explore audience engagement through innovative concert programs and research, which Harler will share in this presentation.

The stated mission of the international conference is to “forge pathways of (re)connection between dance and music that will prove long lasting and meaningful. By drawing attention to the multiplicity of sounds in dance and ways in which music moves its listeners, we aim to generate fruitful dialogue that will enable a regeneration of the relationships between music and dance scholarship.” The Urban Echo panel is open only to conference registrants.

For more information about the Moving Music / Sounding Dance: Intersections, Disconnections, and Alignments between Dance and Music, visit

One of America’s oldest choruses, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia performs choral music to create a shared transcendent experience among its singers and audiences. Through the excellence of its adventurous performances, Mendelssohn Club advances the development of choral music as an art form. For information about Mendelssohn Club’s concerts and programs, or to order tickets for the 2011-2012 season, visit You can also find Mendelssohn Club on Facebook at and on Twitter:


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Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia
PO Box 59522
Philadelphia, PA 19102