Monday, 19 January 2015

Conversations on choreography and composition

We had a really rich and enjoyable experience with the LCDS-Guildhall collaborations.  I recorded this post-collab discussion for our colleagues who couldn't join us that day.  They've given permission for me to reproduce it here!

LCDS-Guildhall Music Collaborations 2014 Post-Collaboration Discussion, 8 December 2014 at The Place

Lauren: What were some things that you learned or found particularly challenging or interesting about this project? How did you cope with the short time period?

Sze: I had very different but productive experiences working with James and Sylvia. With Sylvia we agreed on a great deal of things but the difficulty was that we didn’t have our musician until very late in the process.  I was choreographing without knowing what the music would sound like and she was writing without knowing what it would sound like either.  But she was really present.  Every rehearsal she was there with us, and I realized that she has a great visual sense as well.

With James it was interesting because we disagreed so much!  We realized that we have very different approaches and aesthetics.  It took us about three meetings to settle what concept we wanted to work on. But we had many moments where we realized that it wasn’t working and we had to return to the concepts.  The most interesting discussion we had was when we decided we had to return to understanding each others’ aesthetic and what we wanted to get out of the piece.  In the end we got something very different from what each of us would otherwise make, and it was very interesting.

James: I used the analogy of raisins and mustard from Harrison Birtwistle: “Making a piece is like creating a new recipe.  You first go and pick ingredients.  Maybe it’s mustard and raisins. What matters is the way you put them together, without making the dish too wishy-washy.”

The nature of our working process was up and down, one week might be great and the next one dodgy. We hit some brick walls rather than full steam ahead. Our job was to make it work, not to settle for compromises.  We were really interested in trying each other’s “shoes” on, that is trying out each other’s working process. We found ways to gel through talking, improvisation and listening to each other to find a connection.

What didn't work was when we veered away from collaboration – when we built structures and I had a written score. We ended up not listening to each other when we had it written down.

Working with a collaborator with a different aesthetic forced me to return the concept much more often, which is something I don’t always do when writing music.  This is something useful I will definitely take away with me.

Chris: I wrote something different from what I usually write. What helped me and Connor was that we were very clear on the intentions of the material and we drew the trajectory of the piece before making it. That helped me to write something that was different and stick to it. 
I also learned that if something is already not working in the music, putting it together with the dance makes the issue even more obvious.

Lauren: Looking back to the workshop week that started these collaborations, this process was in some ways  about knowing what tools and decisions to work with - about experiencing a wide range of tools or ways of working and then deciding which ones to select.

Yanaelle: It was great to be working on the project like this, to see how Guildhall people work.
Chris: One thing that could have been better was if the musicians could have been more present earlier in the rehearsal process, to really merge the performance with the dancers and create a stronger connection between them. The dialogue between music and dance was an ongoing process, which emerged from the live performance.

Yanaelle: For us, working with recordings could be tricky. We worked for some time with a recording of the first section from Thomas.  But when the actual musicans came to play for rehearsal it was very different and it really threw the dancers off because it wasn’t played the exact same way.

Lauren: How was it for the composers working with composition tutors who didn’t see the dance component of the project? When teachers gave you contrasting comments what did you do and how did you understand what they meant? For dancers, would it have been useful to have another tutor for choreography?

Chris: I discussed with my tutor as well as with Paul but I didn’t feel like one path was “the” right path to follow. My tutor helped me quite a bit with the chords at the end.  He also kept reminding me of the concept of the piece, to the extent that I realized I couldn’t do anything else.

James: Because so little of this piece was written, I spent quite a lot of time with my tutor talking about the concept. We discussed the idea that when you hear your own work at a later stage, you start to see new problems in it that you didn't see when you first made it, this being what Birtwistle calls a 'wound' in a piece. At a later stage still, a wound might heal, that is you no longer find that aspect of the piece problematic, but a new wound might open up somewhere else. I think it's quite a common process to go through with your own work, even while still composing, and I think it definitely happened to us!

Sylvia: My tutor is Paul so he was familiar with what we were doing. I found this helpful as he could offer his thoughts on the integration between music and dance during the compositional process. When I went to have a lesson with another tutor, to whom I showed a video but didn’t really explain the concept in great depth, he commented more on the musical structure, and isolated the musical aspect to make sure it was working on its own. 

Yanaelle: Because I was busy with the Crystal Pite project, Thomas went ahead to write the first section of the music first.  That set the tone for how I worked after that.  We worked by sections. The first one was quite set and I created the movement along with that.  For other sections we created the music and the movement separately based on the same idea.  However there was one section where it really didn’t work and we had to look at it again.

Lauren: For the first time in this collaboration project, we had many more musicians available for more rehearsals than before.  How did that influence how you worked?

Chris: We didn’t have so many rehearsals with the musicians. I had decided that I would finalize the piece after the second week.  Of course in the third week we had the rehearsal with the dancers and musicians and I realized that it didn’t work at all and had to go back to rewrite it.

Sze: Our situation with Sylvia was rather that we didn’t have the musician or even the instrument confirmed till quite late.  But we did benefit from extra time for bubbling of ideas that the other groups did not have.

Sylvia: I had to work with what was available. I originally wanted to write for double bass and viol but double bass was not available.  So I ended up writing for just viol and in the end I think it worked out better that way.

Sze: It would have been a totally different piece.

Chris: It would have changed the texture of the piece a lot.

Sylvia: Even with two instruments I would have used them quite soloistically.

Lauren: (For Jordan) What was your experience of the process?

Jordan: As an undergraduate student I thought about how I can pull from the experiences that I had from working with different choreographers, so that I could make decisions and direct my dancers.
There is never a perfect performance.  The question for me was whether as a creator, I could let go? Actually a piece or a recording is a document of who you were at a certain point. 

Sze: You also can’t control audience’s reactions (e.g. laughter) to your work.

Sze: For dancers it’s usual to work with music but for composers it’s less common to work with movement.  How was the experience for you?

James: I realized that it takes very little time for things to shift and evolve in music, wheras in dance two minutes is a very short time for a shift to happen. I thought about our perception of time in seeing and hearing. Is it episodic or continuous?

Lauren: How much did your pieces reflect the “haiku” of the workshop week?

Sze: The idea of other spaces and displaced noises remained with us from the time I shut Sylvia in the cupboard!

Sylvia: I continued to think about how I could displace sounds, musically and spatially.

Chris: We made a piece where I had just one chord where the elements drop out one by one and Connor simply went from standing to bending down, really slowly.  I think it influenced our concept quite strongly.

Yanaelle: For the haiku, I stood behind Thomas on one leg, balancing, and he played a circular motion around the edge of his singing bowl. The quality of both the movement and sound was used in our final piece.

Music Collaborations
Performances created in collaboration by students from London Contemporary Dance School and Postgraduate students from Guildhall School of Music and Drama
5-6 December 2014, Robin Howard Dance Theatre

1.     Loop
Concept/Performance by James Albany Hoyle, Chan Sze-Wei

2.     Muliebris
Choreographer: Katy Ayling
Composer: Hans Hoeglund
Dancers: Laura Ginatempo, Laura Lorenzi, Katrina Madrilejo
Musicians: Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Chloe Abbott, Viola: Anna Luiza, Percussion: Dori Raphael, Piano: Yung-Yueh Cheng

3.     Aki
Choreographer: Jordan Ajadi
Composer: Donghoon Shin
Dancers: Laura Ginatempo, Luke Crook, Josie Sinnadurai, Sophie Morgan
Musicians: Cello; Andrew Power, Clarinet; Han Kim, Piano; Sebastian Espinosa, Conductor; James Albany Hoyle

4.     Without
Choreographer: Connor Williams
Composer: Chris McCormack
Dancers: Laura Lorenzi, Katrina Madrilejo, Benjamin Eagles, Mari Ishida
Musicians: Violin; Lyazzat Abisheva, Violin; Yi-Ning Liao, Violin; Monika Chmielewska, Piano; Ng Yu Ching Shelley, Percussion; Vonald Chow, Electronics; Chris McCormack

5.     Dessus de Souffle
Choreographer: Yanaelle Thiran
Composer: Thomas Fournil
Dancers: Luke Crook, Benjamin Eagles, Joanna Kalm, Mari Ishida, Sophie Morgan, Josie Sinnadurai
Musicians: Flute; Toni Berg, Jack Michael Welch, Clarinet; Myles Wakelin-Harkett, Percussion; Peter Ashwell, Singing Bowl; Mari Ishida

6.     Feet of Bread
Choreographer: Chan Sze-Wei
Composer: Sylvia Lim
Dancer: Virginia Scudeletti
Bass Viol: Liam Byrne

Collaborations Tutors: Lauren Potter, Paul Newland

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