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is a “chamber-jazz” live musical performance from composer Daniel Weidlein and choreographer Gwendolyn Gussman using contemporary dance and immersive film projections to journey through the life-cycle of a forest fire.

gentle twilight forest in the redwoods.jpg
The Story

    From The Ashes is a suite of music for a 10-piece chamber ensemble (and scalable to a full symphonic experience) that tells the story of a life-cycle of a forest through compelling dance and visual projection. Almost like a ballet in its storytelling nature, but without the constraints of traditional art forms.

    The piece asks the following questions: what role we as humans play in the story of a forest? Are we caretakers? Co-inhabitants? Destroyers? Forest fire has become the norm in our lives, rather than the exception, and we must face these questions head on if we are to change this trajectory and protect our precious forests.

    Performances of From The Ashes  are intended to be accompanied by a community discussion with local ecologists and forest-fire experts about the changing paradigm of how we approach wildland fires, and the intersection of art making and ecological activism. This program was piloted during the April 2024 workshop residency of the piece through a series of hikes and talkbacks with the Sonoma Ecology Center and members of the Sonoma, CA community who lived through the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

The Story

The Piece

The Piece

The piece runs approximately 80 minutes and completes a full "forest cycle," expressing reverence for the serenity of a forest, exploring the tension between human and wildland interests, facing the trauma of overwhelming fires, and celebrating the renewal that  follows. 


The piece opens with a solo piano rendition of the forest theme—a gospel-influenced, reverent melody, while video projections immerse the audience in twilight in a sequoia forest, silhouetting the backs of breathing dancers. As the strings enter and the full ensemble takes over, dancers emerge and capture the vivaciousness of a forest breathing at dusk.


The forest has reached its limit. Overprotective fire suppression has reached its limit and the forest is primed for catastrophe. Humans power on, and the music rises to a relentless, repetitive motif that feels chaotic yet familiar. Electronic clashes with acoustic as human dancers fail at their tasks. The video projections warp our sense of reality and heighten anxiety. Suddenly, the cacophony gives way to a brief, beautiful tree tango as the first spark ignites in the forest.


We zoom out and see an orange glow over a ridge. Firefighters come in to heroically battle the blaze and establish unstable fire lines. The music and movement is tinted by the unmistakable sense that the goal is to protect buildings rather than nature, and creature comforts rather than the inhabitants of the forest. Mechanical elements are at their most forward in this piece as planes and bulldozers close in on the audience in the projections while musical tension continues to build.


From newly enriched soil and an open sky of sun to feed it, a single sapling emerges, followed quickly by its bretheren all around it. Hopeful, angular melodies suggest the adolescent nature of a forest growing anew. Dancers capture this essence of the forest's rebirth as the forest slowly grows around the audience in the video projections. Instrumentalists trade improvisations as the core melody transforms in different keys and iterations until the forest is thick and tall once again.


A slow, swampy, electronically-infused beat emerges that feels like a New Orleans dirge. This introduction of electronic elements interrupts the acoustic nature of the forest, and we begin to feel a human intervention. Dancers make repeated motions that imply mindlessness. The piece is interrupted by angular "winds of change" in the string section that hint at what's to come. Though they persist, the beat goes on and the humans return to their tasks.


In an instant, the fire has begun. Small and beautiful, at first. It is a duet between saxophone and acoustic drums, with a single dancer improvising freely amidst lapping projections of flames. It begins to rage, grow in intensity, but remains beautiful all the same.

A sort of resolution is found, not to imply the end of the fire, but rather the beginning of the blaze. Projections equally capture the beauty and violence of flames surrounding the audience.


A thunderclap of drums dispels the tension, a trickle of rain starts—effects from acoustic instruments mimic the sounds of rain and canopy. Droplets appear on the projections and as the sound dies down, the projections fade to black. What remains is two pianos repeating the same note for ten minutes or so, slowly evolving into a peaceful improvised soundscape. The audience gets a chance to meditate on what they have just witnessed, or take a brief intermission if they so choose while the dancers gently bathe each other and focus on calming their nervous systems.


The thesis statement. With a constant pulsing heartbeat, this simple melody and evocative dance piece encourages the audience to ruminate on what could be if we as humans could come to a true understanding with nature. It's not a piece that feels final—it acknowledges the grief and trauma of a natural disaster, the rebirth of the forest, and the historical precipice we sit upon to choose how we take care of our planet moving forward. The projections show the forest mimicking the dancers, just as they mimic the forest.


As dancers return to the floor, musicians all leave the stage until only Daniel is left at the piano, recapitulating the original melody of "Before." The cycle is complete. But the audience is left at a crossroads. Is the cycle destined to repeat itself? Or is there a chance to move forward along a new, more harmonious path? This is the question we hope to leave the audience with as the piece ends.

gentle twilight forest in the redwoods.jpg


Below are snippets from a community conversation with the Sonoma Ecology Center, the participating artists in the FROM THE ASHES April 2024 workshop, and a number of community members in Sonoma.




The Musician's Perspective




From The Ashes is supported, in part, by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

Daniel Weidlein is a sponsored artist with The Performance Zone Inc (dba The Field ), a not-for-profit, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization serving the performing arts community. Contributions to The Field earmarked for Daniel Weidlein are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. For more information about The Field , or for our national charities registration, contact: The Field , 228 Park Ave S, Suite 97217, New York, NY 10003, phone: 212-691-6969. A copy of our latest financial report may be obtained from The Field or from the Office of Attorney General, Charities Bureau, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

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