Dance Meets Music

Image: Kay Armstrong

A collaborative relationship is filled with unexpected possibility. The negotiation, the compromise, the new pathway and the final result produced, something bigger, representative of more than one’s self.

It’s very rare to be able to work with a composer from inception. I can’t count how many times I have trawled through my meagre CD (yes CD!) collection for a sample of something with the right feel and tempo to work with. I invariably end up with some sound track from a movie that doesn’t quite do my imagination justice and toss up whether or not just to go with the sound of my voice barking in accompaniment until I can find a way to make that track work.

Aaah – the simple pleasure in being able to ask for the sound of the wind, of mounting tension, of a soundscape that signifies a concept as complex as trade sanctions. My first composer Elias Constantopedos, whom I met whilst he was a young (19-year-old) student at the Con on a youth project in Manly, became my dramaturg as well. We would spend hours shaping the order and approach of a show together. His musical contribution was equal to the dance.

This is the importance of Dance Meets Music, a showing/sharing presented at the Conservatorium of Music (USYD), pairing emerging dance makers with emerging composers. Now in its third year and realised while Kay Armstrong (youMove) was working with The Australian Chamber Orchestra and the youth string ensemble, Parramatta String Players. Thinking About Forever, performed by youMove Company and choreographed by Kay, featured an original score by Matthew Hindson. It premiered at Riverside Theatres in 2010 and as part of Sydney Festival’s First Night Celebrations in Parramatta, sparking the initial conversation with Matthew to create this opportunity.

The four choreographers and composers paired up for this project varied in age and experience. While it was great to see the final product to date, it was a treat to hear how each pair (or trio) worked together in the Q&A which followed both nights.

Paea Leach worked with co-devisor, Jodie McNeilly and composer Adrian Kingwell on Babylon. What resulted was a playful set of considered structures, each presented with a pause in between to give the audience permission to reflect, to start again. It began with the sound of a note sung into the strings of the grand piano, set upstage opposite prompt, and Paea galloping on stage in a clockwise circle.

This set the tone for the piece – surreal and whimsical. A sculpture of chairs, representative of a tower(?), looking like a small mountain with tea light candles flickering as lights in the windows of chalets, balanced the set. Her Spanish conquistador costume, white shirt, black pants and black boots, which extended the device of live accompaniment to the recorded track as they periodically beat their own tattoo, both on and off her feet.

On first hearing the sound, Paea spoke about it being ‘too busy’ and of her desire not to be dictated by it.

Space, stillness and silence present an opportunity to maintain clarity between the two forms. It was the incorporation of pauses in movement, sometimes with a lowering of the lights, the initiation of new movement vocabulary, the switching of tempo, the circling of the stage before residing in a particular spot, which revealed not only an interrogation of the theme, but of the relationship between the two forms.

Composer Stephen Forsyth¬† worked with choreographer/performer Fenix Icatu on F=ma / Photon. In contrast to the first piece, this was the result of a dictatorial relationship. Fenix’s movement development, from an arresting image of the body captured in stillness in suspended animation on the back wall, moving in small segments on it, before falling into continuous motion centre stage, was mirrored in the musical composition.

It was the discovery that if a successful symbiotic relationship were to exist the original intent, consisting of continuous sound at the relentless pace of 165 beats per minute, could not. The human body, Fenix’s body, just could not maintain that.

This realisation challenged the utilisation of the chosen physical genre, hip hop, which is commonly performed in short high energy spurts, growing out of call and response street battle scenarios. In taking the form out of context and placing it in a slightly longer format both the composer and choreographer had to consider more than just the veneer; the aesthetic of the associated genre.

The third showing From a better Place choreographed by Nerida Godfrey, with collaborator/performer Kat Doube and composer Sharon Calcraft – Music title: mi ritrovai per una selva oscura [I found myself in a dark wood / forest] was created around the impetus of manual labour, of harvesting apples in an orchard. It was physically relentless, consisting of a sole figure in continuous gesture, arms and legs moving with quick, sharp precision. The body was both utilitarian and feminine, delicate and forthright, dressed in pink overalls with hair slicked back, punctuating the air with a series of swift slices from torso and limbs, processed in straight lines, that cut the stage across and diagonally.

The musical collaboration on this piece was very quick; two weeks in total. It was interesting to note that the music, while composed from relatively hasty conversations around the original theme, had its own title, its own separate identity. Giving the creators and the audience permission to accept that these two works can exist in their own right.

The final piece ?n-dw?l? with choreographer/performer Imogen Cranna and composer Sophie Hoffman was a feast of the senses. An installation intermingling projection and shadow play, consisting of branches arranged and introduced by Imogen before she dons the stage dressed as an apparition in white, an extension of her alabaster skin, providing the best canvas imaginable. She is perceived as a part of the environment she inhabits, as her camouflaged self, and as an inquisitive interloper asserting her presence, her relationship to the digital landscape.

I am unable to remember any distinct musical influence in this work, but that is due to my chosen discipline (dance) and the predominance of the visual. I do remember that this work was imbued with a haunting quality that mere visual input alone may not conjure. Was this the result of a seamless partnership? More than anything, I am heartened by the fact that in the program notes these two artists speak of mutual ideas and passions and the further development of a relationship based on  meaningful experience.

I hope to see this initiative extended well into the future.

– by Vicki Van Hout