Q&A: Brittany Haas & Nic Gareiss On Their Fiddle & Dance Collaboration

Fiddler Brittany Haas (Crooked Still, Haas Kowert Tice) and the much-celebrated percussive dancer Nic Gareiss (This is How We Fly) performed two shows in the Boston area over the weekend. One of those shows was at the Old Schwamb Mill in Arlington where photographer Jason Elon Goodman shot a great video (below) before the duo’s stunning performance there to benefit the Mill – the oldest continuously operating mill in the U.S.

The video has been making its way around social media this week, so I caught up with the Brittany & Nic for a quick backstory. Here’s what they shared.

How’d this duo come about? Is this the first time you’ve played together?

Brittany: This was our first time doing a full duo gig in the US. We’ve done little bits in fiddle camp concerts over the years, as well as touring in a band called 4TET for the past couple years, and playing one duo show at a festival in Canada several years ago (at which I made my dancing debut on stage as part of a square dance with the Asham Stompers, a dance troupe of jigging champions from Manitoba. We got to dress in their full costume, which included a garter for me!). Nic is incredible and completely unique in the way that he is extremely involved in the music side of his performance. He learns the tunes too, so that he can dance the exact rhythms instead of just doing steps that look cool along with it. That’s why it feels so dynamic to collaborate with him, and the more we do it, the more we each know what the other might be about to say next in the musical conversation. It’s also fun and challenging for me to be providing all the harmonic content. I’m constantly trying to grab double stops that wouldn’t be necessary for chordal outlining if there were a guitar or cello or some other non-percussive instrument.  Nic is also a secretly (but not-so-secretly-anymore) great singer, and so much fun to sing harmony with.

Nic: Britt and I have actually known each other for nearly seven years.  We met originally at Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddle School in the Redwoods of California and our travels have facilitated chance meetings and collaborations in other disparate and inspiring cultural milieus. Given the wide variety of the sites of our meetings, it’s no wonder that our music pulls from so many different traditional vocabularies.  We’re inspired by music and dance from many locations and feel at the heart that they speak to our own identity, not only as North Americans but as creator+adventurers in THIS time and THIS age.

Photo by Jason Elon Goodman‎
Photo by Jason Elon Goodman‎

Will you guys be doing more performances/touring together so more of us can see this damn fine stuff?

Brittany: Yes, we’re certainly planning on it. The next time we’ll be meeting to make music will be in March with 4TET, which also features Cleek Schrey on 5×5 fiddle & pump organ and Jordan Tice on guitar. We’re also excited to schedule more duo performances as soon as possible!

Tell us about this song you chose.

Brittany: We learned this song from The Cantrells, Emily and Al. The song is written by Emily.

Nic: The piece was made during a week of development; Brittany and I went into a dance studio for four days and asked questions, made pieces, composed new music, and created new movement together.  The opportunity to collaborate with fiddle, voice, and percussive is dance is something that feels stripped down, yet seems to get to the heart of the questions we were asking during that week together.  It’s challenging and invigorating and we’re excited to share it.