Yesterday, I had the awesome opportunity to check out a dress rehearsal for “Heart of Storm,” a brand new entertainment experience that is part live rock show and part Russian ballet.
The band is a tight line up of classic rockers including Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater) on keys, Gregg Bissonette (Ringo Starr, ELO) on drums, Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio) on lead guitar, Tony Franklin (Jimmy Page, Paul Rodgers) on fretless bass, Brent Woods (Warrant, Sebastian Bach) on rhythm guitar and Brandon Fields (Tower of Power, George Benson) on sax.
The music is diverse, epic and enjoyable while the ballet is performed by fresh young Russian talent and choreographed by the gifted Stas Tsoy. These elements come together to form the story that is at the core of Heart of Storm, which is intense, emotional and utterly relatable.
The show is making its U.S. debut this weekend at the gorgeous, historic Orpheum Theater in Downtown LA. Tickets are free via email, with entrance to the VIP afterparty with the band and performers through a donation to Jay Nolan Community Services, an LA based non-profit helping children and families with autism.
After seeing the show, I can assure you that it’s well worth your time, so reserve your free seats via email, and in the mean time, check out some pics from the show and get an inside scoop from the interviews I had with the musicians below.
For tickets and more information, email [email protected] or visit the website.
I walk in through the back of the theater to find the band posing for pictures, taking interviews and cracking jokes with each other. The dancers were all speaking in Russian as they casually did their various stretches while the crew tested lights and sound. I got to sit with some of the musicians to talk about the show, starting with Doug Aldrich.
Monsters and Critics: This is an incredible lineup of musicians and promises to be an amazing show. How did you come together to make Heart of Storm?
Doug Aldrich: It was a dream of our producer Alex. He’d wanted to put together a ballet with rock music. He was at a dinner with Derek Sherinian–the keyboardist, who’s also the MD (music director) and they were talking about it and Derek said “this is great, we should do this!” So they started piecing it together, starting with some Russian musicians and little by little did some touring in Europe to get their feet wet. Then Derek decided “I wanna bring in some of my friends to do this with me, especially if we’re gonna film it.” So they made some changes and that’s when I got involved.
M&C: You’re all talented and experienced musicians, but is this your first time working with a ballet, or choreography at this level? How has that differed from preparing for your average rock show?
DA: It’s a big production, with all the dancers, a full band. It’s going great though. It’s been really fun seeing it progress–every day we’ll make little changes and think “yeah, this is kicking ass!” Most everything that I’ve been involved in has been just a concert situation but this–this is a complete hybrid of an art–of ballet, that maybe gets not enough attention.
Definitely didn’t get my attention until now. Now I’m like “wow, I need to start checking this out!” It’s really cool. We’re having fun with it. It’s been great to play something that’s different and tied into the script. At first we were learning some of the music and thinking “wait, where’s this going?” but it all makes sense when you see it.
This is a very diverse group of people–I come from a hard rock, bluesy side. Even some metal, having played with Dio for some time. Then you got a guy like Gregg Bissonette on drums, who’s a complete jazz head–I mean, he plays rock, he played rock with David Lee Roth… Then you got a guy like Brandon on sax and flute, which totally brings it into Jethro Tull meets Pink Floyd–it’s really cool. We’ve all worked together at different times, but this lineup has never been together, so it’s gonna be good.
M&C: Now you mention the story–this big epic tale. How is it being a part of that, helping bring that to life?
DA: I’m so into the playing so I miss a lot, but when we were in pre-production, Alex, our producer said “I really want to have the guitar parts you’re playing match with what the dancers are doing.” And I didn’t quite understand, but now I see it–there are certain parts where there’s actual choreography that goes with it.
M&C: While tickets are complimentary, donations to Jay Nolan Community Services are strongly encouraged and all proceeds will be given to the foundation. This is an incredibly generous move on the part of the whole Heart of Storm team. Any comments on this?
DA: I’ve got kids, and I think anything you can do to help families with kids with autism–which is the main focus (with JNCS). I can only imagine what it’s like for other families, their lives get a lot more complicated because of it, so it’s really good of the producers to do that, and I agree.
M&C: Now I know you’ve got to get going soon, but do you have any last thoughts on the show you’d like to get out there?
DA: Well I’m hoping that we have a good turnout and that people are excited about it. I think it’s gonna be really interesting because I’ve never seen anything like it–that’s why I wanted to get involved, so I hope people walk away thinking “that’s cool, I’d like to see it again.” You know, that’d be the goal.
At this point he’s called away and swapped out for the jovial Brent Woods.
M&C: So here we are…
Brent Woods: The beautiful Orpheum theater! I’m from here, and even as a kid, I’ve never come to the Orpheum Theater, which is crazy to me. So the first time I come here I’m playing, which is kinda cool.
M&C: Yeah, you’ve got a great stage, historic piece of LA and an incredible lineup of musicians. Should be an amazing show. How did you come together to make Heart of Storm?
BW: Alex, the producer who created this whole thing got a hold of Derek Sherinian, who pretty much put the band together. Derek called me and told me the concept, and at first I was kinda like “what?” I mean, I’ve heard of ballets with rock music, but it’s always pre-recorded. There’s never a real rock band playing like an orchestra would be in the pit, so it seemed interesting enough to check it out. So I listened to the music and we went to Russia for a month, just myself Derek and Tony–the other musicians were Russian. We then played five or so shows around Europe which went well, so we brought it back here where we got Doug, Gregg Bissonette and Brandon Fields who’s playing saxophone and flute. So now we’re doing a live DVD–the goal is to take it on the road worldwide, so let’s see what happens.
M&C: Now it seems really fresh–you guys are breathing new life into ballet as an art.
BW: And rock! To have this happening, it’s pretty cool to mix the two.
At this point, the band was called up on stage for a photoshoot, but afterwords I got to meet with the rhythm section for a bit before the performance. After discussing Tony Franklin’s Ohm necklace with Gregg Bissonette, Tony and I started talking about music and the show. Coincidentally, one of the women we were sitting with was discussing her past as a ballerina, though she really always wanted to be a rocker.
M&C: So she’s saying she was a ballerina who always wanted to be a rocker, but the two never seemed to overlap. Today, we’re seeing just that with Heart of Storm. Any thoughts on blending the two arts?
Tony Franklin: Well, it’s fascinating really. To me it started off as a piece of music–I didn’t know there was a whole storyline and everything. Actually, the story itself is very rock n roll–there’s love, drama, murder, a couple of suicides in it… There’s all this emotion, and if you think about it, that’s very rock n roll. We have the love side of it, and musically–the music reflects that. Very gentle, very beautiful. And then you have all the turmoil, which the music expresses that as well, so I don’t know why it hasn’t been done before, to be perfectly honest. Maybe there’s this thinking that the ballet audience won’t like the rock, or the rock audience won’t like the ballet, but to me, ballet it very sensual, very sexy. So is rock n roll. To me it seems like an obvious match.
M&C: And I think there are a lot of people out there who would love ballet, but skip over it because they don’t want to go see classical music. It seems like a really fresh experience that could bring it to a whole new audience.
TF: Yeah, exactly. That’s our hope. At the end of the day, the typical ballet crowd, and that’s not to put any confines on them, maybe they love to rock as well, but this is a loud rock show. There’s no vocals, no announcements during the show, which is great because that makes it international. It’s just the music and the pure emotion of the storyline that comes across. I guess we’re treading new ground where the rocking ballet crowd and the more sensitive rock crowd will like this. It’s just a great show, very engaging and i think it works well, so we’ll just have to see.
M&C: I’m really excited about this because there’s a physicality in ballet and modern dance that can’t really be expressed through violins, but if you have loud, aggressive rock guitars and live drums, it can really stretch the performers and the choreography.
TF: And it was the music that came first, but you see the storyline, the dance and the choreography and you wouldn’t know that. The two were very cleverly put together, so each stand on their own, but they integrate perfectly, making for this very strong, interwoven storyline. Very excited about it.
M&C: As am I. You’ve got two days, opening here in the US with all proceeds being donated to JNCS (Jay Nolan Community Services), which is very generous. Any thoughts on that?
TF: Well the band are all name musicians, and just on that alone could probably have brought in an audience that would pay to see this, but this is brand new. We want to open it up to an audience that might not have normally thought of coming to see this. We want to give them that opportunity, so we are not charging people to see the show–it’s complimentary, so hey, why not give something to a very worthwhile charity like this that can make a difference. We’re not in it for the profit at this point–we are just looking to let people know about this.
M&C: There was mention of a DVD in the works. Any plans to film the performances?
TF: We are shooting a ten camera DVD shoot of these first two nights and are then looking to take it on the road, take it to Vegas, we’ll see where it goes. I don’t know at this point. A lot remains to be seen.
M&C: I’ve been noticing lately that a lot of rock shows are bringing in this performance aspect–making it a full show rather than just four guys on a stage, so I’m really excited to see Heart of Storm bring this to the next level.
TF: Yeah, and to take that to another level, you have the EDM shows which are all about the experience. You have the music, which is usually pre-recorded, but you see people wanting a full experience more than just sound.
M&C: What’s nice about this too is, unlike EDM shows, which will usually rely on a a couple screens and a lighting designer… These are people, on a stage giving a full performance.
TF: It’s a very human, emotional and powerful experience, because you’re getting real emotions from all the musicians and all the dancers, a connection that you’ll never get from EDM stages.
As he started talking the influence of show tunes, the band began sound checking and he was called up on stage. The band jammed for a bit before the lights went down and the show began. I stuck around for the whole thing, which was fantastic, so check in the next couple days to see my thoughts on it.