Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sound advice

February 13, 2011
Washington, DC

At the end of a long conversation yesterday with Chris (CDE rehearsal director and choreographer-in-residence) we got to talking about programming order for the upcoming concert at Montgomery College on February 25 - 27. The discussion is one we have before every show -- and often have both many times before a show and during a concert run, when we have made major changes to show order during runs, or on tour. We've come close a couple of times to changing show order during a show. 

Program order is an odd thing. Its like -- but somehow far more important than -- song order on an album. The way you string a concert together, especially a repertory company concert, dramatically affects the entire way a show is seen, and can alter totally the success of failure of a concert as a whole, and individual dances as works in and of themselves. Sounds silly probably, but its way, way true. 

Yesterday's conversation reminded me yet again that its so often the soundscape, not just (or even) the choreographic landscape, that drives a concert. You would think a dance concert would be dominant in its attention to visuals, but you ignore, or undervalue, sound at your peril. 

This is never more true than in a concert where all, or almost all, of the work is brand-new. The dominant dances on the concert program for "Hold Your Breath Until The End" are new ones from Chris and myself (in my case in collaboration with the company). When we got to programming conversations we found we weren't talking about how the dances looked, but how they sounded. Would the way they are shaped by their scores blend - how should they be separated -- how should they be programmed. In my case, at the end of the conversation, I found myself even rethinking my score based on ensuring a rich and diverse soundscape for the entire show. Somewhere around 3am I was still rummaging through my sound library, trying out different ideas, mixing things together, pondering what made a good story in sound to the story on stage. 

The successful choice of a soundscape is a funny, intuitive thing. Its a marriage. The good ones last. The bad ones....

For me, for "Conversations" I keep coming back to solo piano -- and a kind of solo piano that feels itself like a discussion, a debate with the movement itself. How does that sound impact what you see? 

It used to be that I'd pick my music long before walking into the studio. I think back to "Falling Into the Sea" and dances I made three and four years ago and it all began with the music -- the movement and the narrative all emerged from it. But over these past few years that's flipped on its head. The story is always the start - and so often the movement builds with no sound at all. Its about the interplay of the people in the room and how they touch each other -- both literally and figuratively. And so the challenge changes, and you find that you go in search of sound that does what you need it to do in service of a mood and a story -- and of when there should be no sound at all, when the air is still and its just the eyes that "listen." 

My Dad loved enormous music -- whether it was the Mahler Ninth or the Mozart Requiem. And I tried - for about 30 seconds -- to explore that. And it bombed with a capital bomb. It was one of those "play it for about 16 measures and run the other way" moments. The piano -- and specifically Max Richter's piano -- was the pull. 

But what happens if the right sound for the dance is not necessarily the right sound for the concert as a whole? Its like making two different dances at one time -- one for the htought of the dance and one for the thought of the program. 

Makes for some interesting cognitive dissonance. 

Its a journey still very much in process.....

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