Saturday, December 8, 2007


London Contemporary Dance School. Super cool place out by Kings Cross. The third year (?) dancers are collaborating with post grad composers from Guildhall to create new pieces. It's a project that is going on for the whole year and for the last week they have been getting together and doing initial getting-to-know-you exercises and learning about how each other work. So basically it is their project- five choreographers and five composers. But what would a dance performance be without musicians, eh?

So on Friday the five (of six) musicians who have volunteered for the project and were available showed up at the London School of Contemporary Dance School which is in a building called "The Place" (which I find mildly irritating.) The five of us were: Andreas, Jorge, and Me from the Leadership programme, and then a pianist and a saxophonist. I remember neither of their names, but I talked to the sax player a bit and she seems really cool so I'm looking forward to working with her. Since it is still the beginning stages of the project and they don't even know yet which composers are working with which dancers there wasn't any music to read and everything was improvised.

We started (in a circle! I am forever in circles!) with a name game or two and then passed around a clap and switched directions and threw it across the room (these games are really hard to describe- if I could show you it would take one second, but in written form it just gets confusing.)

It was interesting to do improvisations with an extra element. Everyone was given the direction to think of 'suspension', 'drop', and 'gesture' and then (with the composers acting as dancers for this exercise) there could only be 3 dancers and 3 musicians dancing/playing at any one time.

After we tried that out for a while we were told to think about leading v. following, allowing space for either just dance or just music, and whether you were going with everything else that was happening or against it.

The second improvisation was the most fun for me. Jorge and I have worked together a lot, so he came and used the bass as a percussion instrument while I did a walking bass line which was an opposite sound to most of what we were doing which was more like musical representations of what the dancing rather than a riff or chord progression. Towards the end of that improvisation one of the dancers and one of the composers lied down on the ground and pushed off from the wall to slide across the floor, so I chose them to follow. I need to get better at describing these things...

Lets try again: we broke up in to small groups- mine had two dancers: Lizzie and Lucy. One composer: Ed. And me. We were supposed to think about dynamics (which means very different things for dancers and musicians), space, and time. Dynamics for dancers gets to be very complicated but as I understand it, in a nutshell it refers to the character (weight, speed, direction) of every movement. For musicians it just means loud or soft, with gradations obviously, but nothing more complicated then that.

So here is what we came up with- I stood in the middle of the audience on the far wall. There was a mirrored wall on my right covered in curtains, and at the far end of the room- directly across from me- Lizzie was standing and Ed was sitting in a chair off to the right. Our dance opened with Lizzie very slightly hunched forward (sideways so that you could see her profile), a high and sustained note on the bass, Ed sitting with a blank expression on his face, and Lucy walking along the mirrored wall underneath the curtain batting her hands back and forth quickly so that she was moving fairly slowly, but the rhythm of her hands was fairly quick and the curtain moved a lot. As Lucy walked the length of the wall Lizzie was very slowly (almost imperceptibly) bending backwards while at the same time I was very slowly (almost imperceptibly) glissandoing down in pitch. When Lucy reached the end of the curtain and stepped out behind Ed, he screamed. Then the only sound left was my sustained note- at which point attention shifted to Lizzie who was at this point clearly in a different position from when she started and still slowly bending backwards. Her descent and mine continued until she had to fall down at which point I sped up my glissando so that I hit an open string (loudly) at the same time that she hit the floor. Then Ed, who still had a blank expression on his face got up out of his chair, walked over to Lizzie who was lying prone on the floor, and said "huh."

After everyones' performance we sat down and talked about each and also about the scheduling for the rest of the project and what else could be involved. Because the instrumentation will be some variation on accordion, piano, percussion, bass, flute, and saxophone I'm hoping that someone will write a Tango. We're perfectly set up for one.

It was really really great. But maybe you had to be there...


nortonmiddaugh said...

Ooh! The dance sounds really cool!

Roberta said...

Greetings Casey,
I've started to read your blog and am enjoying your stories. My maternity leave is almost over (walter is 8 weeks old). We got new cell phones/PDAs which is letting me peek at the web while holding the baby.
Cousin Roberta Roberts

Andy said...

I've been to The Place. About 12 years ago I went to a contemporary dance performance there -- a German group called SOAP. Very memorable, they dressed up as elves and delivered candy to each audience member individually, then danced blindfolded with the announcer warning them how many meters they were from the stage edge.

It's fun to think of you going there now.