That busy week of rehearsals I mentioned in my last post wasn’t just about Jubilant Red. It was also the week that all the elements in Book of Love came together for the first time: Kokoro Dance (which commissioned the piece), Standing Wave (which will perform the music live in performance), British artist Jonathan Baldock (who has created the costumes and set design), and me.
I’ve written a series of posts about the process of creating the music for this show (which you can read starting here). All my musical ideas for this piece had their genesis in the movement material created by Kokoro’s Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi, and danced by them along with Molly McDermott and Billy Marchenski. From those sounds I fashioned a full hour of music for Standing Wave to play. Now, in this week of residency at the Dance Centre in Vancouver, it would be the first time that I had heard the music performed from outside my own imagination, which means it would be like the first time hearing any new piece: Did that gesture sound like I thought it would? Was that section balanced? Did the colours work? Was the tempo right? Was the dramatic pacing satisfying? WAS IT PLAYABLE?????
But unlike rehearsing a concert piece, there was an added consideration: the music and the dance had to work together. The dancers had been working with (ugly and rigid) MIDI “approximations” of the music, refining the movement material to mesh with the music. Already, I could see that much of that material had transformed. But this week had the extra importance of providing the time to figure out how the music and dance would work together in real time. It was the first time the dancers would hear the music as it really sounded, but also the first time that we could adjust things like tempo, to find the “right” marriage of movement and music.
And — very excitingly — it was the first time for me to see Jonathan’s costumes in action. They are brilliantly coloured, and the long sleeves are almost characters themselves as the dancers give them life and movement. The woven headpieces (which make me think of how as kids we used to make helmets out of laundry baskets) add a whole other level of surreality. I love them! But I wondered how the dancers would dance in them. Of course, I need not have feared, because Jay and Barbara have come up with all sorts of creative and ingenious ways to transform the headpieces and costumes as the piece progresses. And Jonathan did not just create costumes for the dancers — the musicians of Standing Wave are in costume too. (Without the helmets of course.) They are on stage as well, after all, but no all-black-and-blend-into-the-background this time. Which, as percussionist Vern Griffiths pointed out, is a reminder that they will also be looked at by the audience. I guess that means they have to be on their best behaviour at all times!
The opening of the music, which is very ritualistic, with temple bowls played by percussion and piano, was directly inspired by Jonathan’s costume template, and I was thrilled to see how the red robes worn by the players set the musical scene before a single note was heard.
The first rehearsal of music that the composer hears is always nerve-wracking. So many things to listen for! But with Standing Wave, I knew the piece was in great hands. It was incredibly exciting to hear the music, to work out the details, AND to look up from my score every so often and see the amazing movement and colour that was happening right in front of me. After a handful of rehearsals, I have a very long list of little corrections and edits to make. A re-voiced ending. A changed multiphonic fingering. A harmonic where there wasn’t one before. A woodblock to replace a ratchet that sounded cliché and literal when I wanted dreamy and suggestive. Next week we reconvene at the Roundhouse — opening night is November 25, just around the corner. If you’re in Vancouver, come join us!