I've gotten to know Ben as a dancer in Katrina Conte's piece for Alive Dance Collective's upcoming show INK in Motion. His process has been so collaborative and it was interesting to hear more about it! Read on to get to know more about Ben and catch his work at INK in Motion on April 29th @8pm and April 30th @2pm.
Brenna: Thanks for chatting with us Ben! Can you start by giving a brief introduction of who you are and what you do?
Ben: Thank you so much for having me.
My name is Ben Cuba, and I’m an accompanist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist in the Boston area. I work as a ballet pianist and dance class accompanist for Emerson College, Boston Conservatory, and Greater Boston School of Dance. I play bass in the band Midnight Motion, and I write and record my own original music as well. I have composed music for many dancers and choreographers around Boston. It’s been an honor to compose “Sam Am I” for Katrina and Alive Dance Collective. It is my first piece for Alive, and I’m excited to share it with everybody.
Brenna: Tell us about how you started making music for dance! What are some of your favorite creations for dance and why?
Ben: My avenue into composing music for dance was through accompaniment and immersing myself in the overall dance scene and environment. I was a Music Composition major at Bates College, and a member of the Bates Dance faculty found out that I played a number of instruments, and she asked if I would like to try out dance accompaniment. I immediately gravitated toward the craft and wanted to further my involvement with dance by composing for choreography. The early stages involved making music for a few videos and short pieces at the Bates Dance Festival in 2015. During my senior year, I got to compose for a piece in the Bates Fall Dance Concert 2015, which was my first major composition that was performed for an audience.
I have two favorite creations for dance.
I got to see Glenn Kotche, the drummer for the band Wilco, play live on stage for ATE9 Dance at the Boston ICA. His rhythmic connection with the dancers was unparalleled, and he displayed a keen insight into the movement taking place.
Dorrance Dance’s “Myelination” left me speechless. I have seen this piece in Boston and New Haven, and it continues to excite and stimulate me musically. Donovan Dorrance’s compositional style is genius; he knows how to get into your brain and under your skin in the most beautiful way. The music, coupled with the tap dancing, is hypnotic, soothing, and galvanizing, and brings you on a comforting journey.
These two have been the most motivating and influential pieces for me. It was also amazing to have met Glenn and Donovan after these shows.
Brenna: We’re so excited to see your work featured in Ink In Motion! Can you tell us about your process for creating the music for Katrina’s upcoming piece? What was the most fun? What was the most challenging? How did the process evolve as the piece evolved?
Ben: It’s been a great time composing “Sam Am I” for Katrina. It’s been a compositional process like no other.
Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” is ripe with back-and-forth quips and confrontations. There are two forces at play in the story, namely enticing suggestion and fervent refusal. I wanted to musically capture these two forces by mixing major and minor keys. Major keys represent the quirky, happy suggestion and the minor keys represent the harsh, blunt dismissal.
It was fun to play around with different sounds and instrumentation. I had never composed with horns and marimba before, but, while flipping through the book’s pages, I noticed that the dance and story called for those instruments. I felt a new sense of freedom while composing for this piece. Since the characters in the story ride a train, a car, a boat, while encountering a goat, a fox, and a mouse, I felt like I could implement all types of sounds and noises. Anything is possible in this Dr. Suess world that the dance inhabits.
The most challenging component of this process was breaking away from my instinctual creative tendencies. I had to make a concerted effort to go against the melodies that I would typically write. I had also never worked on a dance piece directly based on writing or source material. Having the guidance from both a choreographer’s movement and an author’s visual and verbal aesthetic was a new experience for me.
I composed “Sam Am I” page by page, so I needed to understand the little differences between the scenes. For example, when the characters are riding through the dark, I implemented more brooding, mysterious electronic sounds, which stand in contrast to the light-hearted, wacky marimba during the beginning’s back-and-forth dialogue.
Brenna: In addition to creating compositions for dance, you are also an accompanist. How do you feel these two roles inform each other?
Ben: There are many differences between the two roles. For instance, while accompanying a class, I’m most often limited to one instrument, while I can record and layer many instruments when composing for a piece. Furthermore, dance accompaniment operates at much faster pace than working on a composition. During a dance class, I only have the time it takes for the teacher to demonstrate a combination, and then I create and play something that hopefully works out. I feel like composing for dance allows for more time to experiment. I can play with counts, sounds, rhythms, ideas, melodies that are more outside the norm, or outside of a class curriculum so to speak.
There are also many similarities between the two. The collaborative element is crucial for both forms. Whether working with a teacher or a choreographer, the musician’s service to the movement is paramount. Both forms demand a strong amount of observation and listening. Overall, adaptability is key. It is also important to understand that the movement taking place, whether it’s in a class or for choreography, is not limiting the accompanist’s and composer’s musical creation, but rather breathing life into it.
That is to say, I enjoy both roles. I find both challenging and overall beneficial to my own musicianship.
Brenna: Finally, how can people learn more about you and get in touch if they’re interested in working with you?
Ben: My website bencuba.com has videos and links to all of my work. I am also @ben_cuba on Instagram. My email is also email@example.com. Anybody can reach out to me on these platforms. I’m always happy to collaborate.
I have also compiled the music I have composed for choreography onto an album called “Savage Movements.” The album is on Spotify and Apple Music, just search my name with “Savage Movements” and it will turn up. “Savage Movements II” is also in the works as we speak.
Thank you so much to Katrina and Alive Dance Collective.