Hybrid performance troupe String Theory fuses rock, dance and classical influences in “Remembering Water”

By Christina Campodonico

String Theory performers strum a massive harp during a show that blends live music and dance Photo by David Lowe

String Theory performers strum a massive harp during a show that blends live music and dance
Photo by David Lowe

String Theory, an abstract branch of physics, can be difficult to conceptualize.

String Theory, the Venice-based performance troupe of musicians, dancers and harpists, may be equally hard to describe.

The hybrid company concludes the current run of its multidisciplinary 75-minute show “Remembering Water” at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica this weekend.

The troupe has performed around the world and is known for transforming buildings into giant harps that activate the surrounding architecture with instrumental music played by both musicians and dancers.

Sometimes the dancers even wear the instruments. (One particularly recognizable String Theory instrument is the skirt harp, which looks like a tutu, except that instead of tulle shooting out from the dancer’s waist, it’s long spindly poles.)

Yet even if you’ve seen String Theory perform around L.A. in spots such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Feliz, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles or at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, it can be difficult to wrap your head around what exactly String Theory is.

Co-founder and choreographer Holly Rothschild describes String Theory as a combination of “sound sculpture” and movement that is constantly seeking out new ways to integrate dance with the company’s signature harp instrumentation, designed by her husband and String Theory co-founder Luke Rothschild.

“I think sometimes when we describe it, it sounds like it might be a little pretentious. But it isn’t. It’s actually very accessible to a general audience,” says Holly, who says String Theory’s audience ranges in age from 8 to 88.

“Holly’s always been striving to kind of break down the specific delineations between music and dance,” adds Luke.

“Remembering Water” can best be described as a sonic mash up of rock, electronic and a fusion of musical influences from around the world with athletic dance numbers woven in-between. Holly’s choreography is based on images from the photography book “The Architect’s Brother” by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, and the music was written by Luke and members of the company.

At the Miles, long silvery wires as thin as fishing line extend across the room from the base of the stage to the ceiling, immersing the audience beneath an expansive fin harp, which Luke designed to be able to fold up into two suitcases for transport on airplanes. The instrument makes a high-pitched whine, reminiscent of a Scottish bag pipe at times, an Indian Sitar at others. Sometimes strains of dulcimer come to mind.

Overall, the instrument generates an ethereal hum that hovers over the musicians’ rock-driven ballads that draw upon bass, sax, electric guitar, drums, violin, piano and synth for texture and volume. The dancers get in on the musical action by banging the strings atop an exposed piano soundboard, breathing hard into microphones, serving as backup singers and percussionists, and wearing harness harps, which are long strings that extend from their backs and use body weight and movement to ignite sound.

Rock ’n’ roll, contemporary dance and harps don’t ordinarily combine forces, but somehow String Theory continues to find harmony between the disciplinary lines.

“We keep wanting to explore ways to integrate dance,” says Holly. “I think we’re always trying to push it into how we’re synthesizing these elements.”

String Theory’s “Remembering Water” continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (March 25 and 26) and 7 p.m. Sunday (March 27) at the Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets are $17 to $23 and available at stringtheoryproductions.bpt.me.