Back in the day, when music in the theatre manifested itself dramatically as dance and singing together — specifically ballet and opera — it did so in a myriad of different forms. Though we now call them opera-ballets (or even just operas), they can be difficult to imagine now that the two art forms are not only separate themselves, but tend to have separate audiences in many cities, sharing only their theatre in common. Conveniently, but unfortunately, the choreography has been lost in all cases and the works are revived as what we now call opera in the main. A dance of course is much more difficult to write down than music — though written music is not itself trivial, in fact, baroque composers had no desire to write down every note, and quite a bit of the creative act we now assign to composers was originally given to musicians and singers, ornamentation in particular, were and are very important and in most cases these improvisations were not thought to be written down since that would defeat their whole purpose of expressive dramatic spontaneity. These baroque operas, even the French ones of Lully and Rameau in which the dancing is particularly important, are first and foremost watched and listened to today as opera, even when some care, attention and time are given to recreating the choreography. Granted these are not listened to and watched quite in the same way as classical or romantic or modern opera, but what what we label so generally as opera encompasses nearly as many terms as there were composers for the genre, in some cases more: there were Monteverdi’s favole in musica and ‘staged madrigals,’ ballets de court, the comédie-ballets of Lully and Molière, ballets-tragiques of Lully and later Rameau, tragédies en musique, Purcell’s operatic masques, the Singspiel of Mozart, Haydn and Schubert and others, and Wagner’s music-dramas, though the Paris Opéra’s requirement that all operas have ballet in them lasted through Wagner’s time, who famously added one to the beginning of Tannhäuser so it could be produced in there, though interestingly even now Tannhäuser seems to be performed with the ballet more often than without.
Dancers Go ‘A-Fugeing’: The Sydney Dance Company With the Australian Chamber Orchestra (Amplified!) in ‘Project Rameau‘
If the fugue is the highest form of counterpoint it’s because it is truly an art. No one would deny that fugues do not write themselves, yet they are based on simple, sincere imitation, the first, most obvious ingredient one hears, yet the freedom of the voices is the fugue’s sina qua non. Different voices “speak” their individual melodies, and miraculously the result is not only coherent but harmonious too, and, at least under the masters, such harmonies! From one point of view the fugue is the highest composer’s art, even over-specified, yet it is a form-texture deriving from the performer’s highest art, improvisation, the fantasy. The fugue is in a way the quintessence of music, taking something which initially seems rigid and rule-bound, well, at least over-obedient, and sheds those rules completely to become free and creative, the fundamentally horizontal linear elements become nonlinear, sounding just as sensible vertically; sound, a dumb mathematical, physical process obeying laws of time and space, is refined into an art which can speak directly to something deep inside a warm human being. So the fugue, even as theoreticians have for centuries tried to define it and the rules of its creation (without much success), culminating in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Traité d’harmonie (1722), at the end of which he discusses fugues and how they are written, finally saying they cannot be reduced to general rules, except “le bon goût ou la fantasie.” J. S. Bach in turn put it most aptly of all… in his music.
A Subtler Dance — Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s ‘En Atendant’ and ‘Cesena’ at the 18th Sydney Biennale
If all sound comes from movement, and all music comes from sound, then all music comes from movement — and so does all dance. Music is defined also by its silences and its spaces — or rather time — left around the notes, but as John Cage so eloquently expressed, silence is not nothing, even if it does not solely belong to the piece of music, neither to the musicians, their instruments nor the composer. There is always “movement” in a general, figurative, sense, in an attentive audience, within their minds, their beating hearts, their souls set vibrating — if one can still hear the trepidation of the spheres over the barbaric post-industrial noise of the world. Dance too, similarly or sympathetically, but perhaps not identically, has stillness (despite the multi-modal thrill of the Waltz) sometimes not even with a pose, as we see in En Atendant and Cesena, where the dancers are often merely left as if a scattered handful of sand or the denizens in their place, and neither does this stillness preclude “movement” in the broader, non-scientific sense (though to be fair to science, even in mathematics, the derivative where it equals zero still exists).
Nature doesn’t really impose physical restrictions on our free will, but rather demonstrates the movements best suited to us; these too are the most beautiful. They are not an imposed law but very much individual. There is an ingenuity to discovering them and in so doing one pushes against them, but the effortful courage of pushing them can be a misplaced nobility, and while there is a certain inherent dramatic tension there, it can become awkward. There is a certain quality in today’s contemporary dance style, though there are many original variations and exceptions, which is hardly naturalistic in the way it pushes the extremes of human ability. The Bangarra Dance Theatre is in a unique position in urban Sydney, close to the Contemporary Dance World (sometimes called a “Mafia,” but let’s try to be positive), but also with close ancestral ties which give them access to the preserved ancient Australian arts which developed in unique ways in their isolation.
More in this category
- The English National Ballet On Tour Spreads The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Festivities
- Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Turns 80: Preview and Schedule for the 2012 Festival
- The Australian Ballet Dances John Cranko’s ‘Onegin’
- Three New Ballets to Open the Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary in Sydney