Among arts groups, multi-artist and inter-disciplinary collaborations are the name of the game in these times of tight budgets, competition for entertainment dollars and audiences accustomed to a constant barrage of stimuli.
But it's likely that when the idea for a joint concert surfaced last year, neither Joe Caulkins, the artistic director of Key Chorale, nor the members of the just-barely-formed Sarasota-Manatee Dance Alliance had any idea of the magnitude of the project that would result.
During a rehearsal on a recent Sunday afternoon at Studio 20, the Sarasota Ballet's downtown studio on Lemon Avenue, the scope was becoming abundantly clear. And that was without the approximately 150 singers and musicians who will make up the audio component of a performance of Requiem by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins.
"This is mammoth!" said choreographer Liz Bergmann, trying to sort and place dozens of dancers according to a diagram in her hand with stickers of fluorescent blue, green, orange and yellow representing different organizations and directions. "And I'm missing how many?"
When the entire cast is assembled, for a one-night-only performance at the Sailor Circus arena on Feb. 26, it will number nearly 200 performers — musicians, singers and dancers — representing almost a dozen organizations and a handful of artistic disciplines, from contemporary dance to Japanese haiku.
The program is part of Key Chorale's "Reaching Out" initiative, which thus far has produced projects with the Pine View School chorus ("Saint Nicolas") and Circus Sarasota ("Cirque des Voix").
The Requiem, first performed in 2005, takes the choral form and Latin text of a traditional requiem — sung by 110 members of Key Chorale accompanied by 17 members of the Sarasota Orchestra — and interjects Japanese mourning haikus, sung by 17 children from the Sarasota Young Voices choir. Add in the 48 dancers from Sarasota and Manatee counties and you have a very full stage indeed.
The collaboration represents a rare opportunity for the dancers to perform to live music and the musicians to see their sounds visually spring to life.
"I couldn't really see this music without some sort of visual component to it," says Caulkins, who will direct the orchestra and singers and who approached the alliance last summer about adding a dance element.
But this was not exactly what Bergmann had in mind when, as an advisory board member for the fledgling SMDA (born in April 2011), she was handed a CD of the Requiem and asked for her input.
"It's my fault, I did it entirely to myself," says Bergmann. "I absolutely fell in love with the music and couldn't say no. But at the time, I had no idea I'd be doing the whole thing."
Caulkins said he felt he found a "kindred spirit" in Bergmann, the former head of dance at Harvard University, who became a Sarasota resident upon her retirement in 2010.
"Her passion created the vision for doing something much grander," Caulkins said. "When you're doing a collaboration, to find someone who is that passionate allows you to get something really amazing."
Bergmann has been choreographing to the 55-minute piece since December, scurrying across neighborhoods and county lines, to reach seven different dance groups: Sarasota Ballet trainees, professional dancers from Fuzión Dance Artists and Moving Ethos Dance Company and students from Booker High School VPA, the Manatee School for the Arts, the West Coast Civic Ballet and New College of Florida. Not only were the dancers all in different places and with different schedules, their abilities ranged from rank beginner to professional and their ages from pre-teens to 40-plus.
"I wanted to do something for each group that would work for them, but I also wanted to challenge myself to do something different," said Bergmann, a short, dynamic woman with close-cropped white hair and a firm but gentle air of practicality. "It's a lot of people to coordinate and I've been greatly challenged. But I think there is still a sense of continuity and I am really proud of the work."
However the impending deadline — along with the strain of the recent death of her ex-husband of 24 years — has been causing her to wake up often at 2:30 a.m. during the past few weeks. Nevertheless, she's been nothing but pleased with the cooperative support of the members of the alliance, which was formed at the suggestion of Booker student Erica Janko to promote unity among the many dance groups in town.
"That was such a powerful moment, us all together," said Janko, moments after Bergmann finished the choreography for the last of the 13 sections in the score with all the dancers rehearsing at once. "What I imagined is actually happening and it's so exciting. Everyone has been so willing to cooperate. And I think this is just a first little step in many great things to follow."
Caulkins said the concert provides a nice "springboard" for giving the alliance a higher profile, as well as allowing Key Chorale to reach potential new audience members.
Carol Michels, president of the SMDA and a longtime arts advocate, agreed, but said the collaboration has also underscored the need for another of her new group's priorities: creating a community rehearsal, performance and administrative space.
"With this many people involved, it's become even more apparent why it's necessary for us to get a performing arts center," Michels said as she watched the rehearsal. "For me personally, that's the next thing I want to work on."
Caulkins said the biggest hurdle he's had to face is getting each aspect of the project to fit with the others — not only the performers and their schedules but everything from finding a large enough Marley dance floor, to setting ticket prices that cover each group's costs, to the right placement of the musicians and dancers in the performance space.
"The greatest challenge is just fitting it all together, just the logistics," he said. "What's tricky with this is that we don't want it to feel like five separate elements, but one cohesive whole."
Sarasota Young Voices
Sarasota Orchestra (partial)
Fuzión Dance Artists
Moving Ethos Dance Company
West Coast Civic Ballet
Booker High School Visual and Performing Arts
Manatee School for the Arts
New College of Florida
Independent dancers Lynn Hooker and Melissa Lodhi