A movement of music

Cello Dances

The cello’s shape creates an interesting symmetry as dancer L. Martina Young poses with cellist Peter Lenz.

The cello’s shape creates an interesting symmetry as dancer L. Martina Young poses with cellist Peter Lenz.

Photo By David Robert

Meeting Peter Lenz and L. Martina Young is enough to make anyone feel underdressed. Sitting in Young’s studio loft, the pair are elegantly clad: Lenz is crisply formal in a tuxedo and close-cropped silver hair, while Young’s full-length, intricately beaded blue-green gown echoes the painting of a peacock on the wall behind her. All dressed up with no place to go? Hardly. They’re getting ready for their upcoming performance, a combination of music and improvisational dance titled Cello Dances.

Lenz, a Reno native, has been playing the cello since he was about 12 years old. He studied mining engineering at UNR, and his day job is with an industrial mineral company. But Lenz never gave up on the cello, and in 1982 he became principal cellist for the Reno Philharmonic, a position he has held for over 20 years. Later, he became principal cellist for the Reno Chamber Orchestra.

Young is the 2004-2005 recipient of the Rosemary MacMillan Lifetime Achievement Award, honoring 30 years of dance. Formally trained in ballet starting at 8-years-old, Young joined an international dance company upon graduating from high school and danced with several companies before embarking on a solo career. She enjoys working with musicians and artists to add depth and dimension to her dance performances.

The Cello Dances collaboration began when Young, a former Director of Dance for UNR, contacted Lenz’s brother John, a professor at the university. Through John, she joined up with Peter, who selected several cello pieces as inspiration. They were immediately struck by a piece from 20th-century English composer Benjamin Britten.

“It was the first piece we listened to,” Young says.

“Well, one of the first,” corrects Lenz.

“It was just so moving and delightful that we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do it,'” remembers Young.

Lenz will be playing a suite for cello, the first of three composed by Britten for renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Lenz describes the piece as both technically difficult and “abstract,” but he feels it has definite themes and meaning.

“It expresses a lot of emotion,” Lenz says. “It makes some statements, and I think people who listen to it will make different interpretations.”

Although Lenz and Young selected the music together, their preparations for the performance are mostly separate. Lenz, who hadn’t played the piece before, practices for about an hour a day.

“I’ve rehearsed by myself many, many times,” he says with a smile.

Meanwhile, Young prepares by doing what she calls “deep listening,” concentrating on the repetition and elaboration of themes within the piece.

“While [Lenz is] practicing an hour a day,” she explains, “I’m listening to it over and over again, listening to its narrative, so by the time I step on stage, it’s informed me.” Her improvisational performance will incorporate her decades of dance training but will also be a spontaneous expression of her mental and emotional connection with the music. In fact, she describes it as “being danced,” rather than dancing.

Although the first performance coincides with Young’s 50th birthday, Cello Dances isn’t intended as a retrospective.

“I’ve never been interested in looking back," she laughs. "I’m always looking forward … I’m turning 50, and I feel like, ‘Now I can begin!'"