By Sarah Gianelli EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – As of EBS press time on Dec. 21, only a handful of tickets remained for the Dec. 29 performance of Rhythmic Circus—a tap dance troupe fueled by a powerhouse seven-piece band—at Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, suggesting a successful season to come for the venue.

The following show, a Jan. 7 performance by a genre-bending New York-based a cappella octet called Roomful of Teeth, is also expected to sell out.

John Zirkle, executive director of the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, is especially enthusiastic about this performance—not only for the Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble’s ability to transcend any expectations of a choral experience, but also for the direct connection between the score’s composer, Ted Hearne, and WMPAC.

Hearne was the composer in residence for the Big Sky Choral Initiative this past summer as part of the Big Sky Conservatory. This program formed to bring nationally renowned performing artists to the mountains to create new work while mentoring up-and-coming performing arts professionals in an immersive learning environment.

Hearne, a freelance composer of international repute, was in Big Sky for a week working with The Crossing, a chamber vocal ensemble dedicated to new music, and fellows from around the country specializing in composition, singing and conducting new works. Two of Hearne’s works were performed for a Big Sky audience in July.

“We were very excited to learn that Roomful of Teeth would be performing another work of Ted’s,” Zirkle said.

While some ensembles decide to add a Hearne composition to their repertoire simply because they like it, “Coloring Book”—a collection of five songs that draw from the words of famous poets and writers to explore the nature of color in society—was written specifically by Hearne for the singers of Roomful of Teeth, with their individual voices in mind.

“This type of crossover among artists is exactly what we love to see in the development of our program out here in the mountains,” Zirkle said. “Both Ted Hearne and Roomful of Teeth are well known for producing extraordinary new approaches to vocal ensemble music … and because Ted’s work has already been introduced to the Big Sky community, I hope that this next piece, ‘Coloring Book,’ will allow audiences to dig a little deeper.”

Hearne’s music holds a special appeal for lovers of musical and written literature as his work explores the interface of language and sound. Of particular interest to Hearne is the synthesis of music and social justice.

For example, one of the songs in “Coloring Book,” “You are not the guy,” emulates chords often used in jazz and rhythm and blues vocal groups while tackling the current epidemic of allegedly racially motivated arrests.

Zirkle said the combined experience of Hearne’s compositions with Roomful of Teeth’s vocals is something more often seen in Philadelphia or New York, but is equally fitting for Montanans who love adventure, new frontiers—and excellence.

Rhythmic Circus will take the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center stage at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 29. Roomful of Teeth performs Ted Hearne’s “Coloring Book” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7.

Visit warrenmillerpac.org for tickets and more information.

WMPAC winter performance schedule

Rhythmic Circus – Dec. 29
Roomful of Teeth – Jan. 7
The Winter’s Tale – Jan. 21 & 22
TEDxBigSky – Jan. 28
Kaia Kater – Feb. 4
Mike Super – Feb. 18
International Guitar Night – Feb. 26
Reggie Watts – March 3
Hiromi: The Trio Project – March 10
James Sewell Ballet – March 18
Ishmael – March 25