Settling the Score, Redux

I thought I’d nailed down the score for Simon Crane, but once I gave it a listen it turned out that the first act was, erm.



It was very Satie.

Don’t take me wrong—I more or less love Eric Satie’s entire oeuvre. But as the score for a ballet, it turns out that “All Satie, All The Time” isn’t really all that effective.

As such, I pored through about a zillion stylistically-similar[1] pieces, I settled on Antonín Dvořák’s “The Water Goblin,” op. 7, from his Symphonic Poems. It has exactly the right feeling, and listening through it I was able to sort out some of the storytelling problems I’d run into in the first act.

  1. Read: late romantic and/or impressionist.

I also decided to use Debussy’s orchestral arrangements of Satie’s first and third gymnopedies and arrangements of the first and third gymnopedies for harp and flute or clarinet.

I think that, should I actually get around to seeing this set and produced, clarinet will probably work better than flute—I think it plays better with the ‘cello that drives the second act and often represents either Simon or The Naturalist.

That said, I plan to take a listen to a flute-harp version and a clarinet-harp version one after the other and see how things feel.


Sandhill Cranes, just FYI. By Dori (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Right now I can only find a recording of the 1st Gnossienne with clarinet, so maybe I’ll just add that to the playlist in place of the flute version, leave the flute version in place for 3rd Gnossienne, and compare them that way.

Regardless, it shouldn’t be too complicated to substitute clarinet for flute in the actual score. The standard clarinet is a transposing instrument[2], but the miracle of modern technology allows us to transcribe accordingly with a few clicks in MuseScore.

  1. That said, C clarinets do exist.

Anyway, here’s the score as it stands, with a basic sketch of the structure of the ballet:

Act I: The Lakeshore

Act I, Scene 1: The Marsh, Just Before Sunset

  1. Orchestra: Satie, Première Gymnopedie, Arr. Debussy.
    1. Corps
  2. Clarinet or Flute & Harp: Satie, Première Gnossienne
    1. Corps & Soloist (Simon)
  3. Clarinet or Flute & Harp: Satie, Troisième Gnossienne
    1. Soloists (Simon, The Naturalist)
  4. Orchestra: Satie, Troisième Gymnopedie, Arr. Debussy.
    1. Corps & Soloist

Act I, Scene 2: The Woods and the Shore, Twilight and Moonrise

  1. Orchestra: Dvořák, “The Water Goblin” (divides into several sub-scenes)
    1. Mis en Scène
    2. Solo Variation (Simon)
    3. Corps & Soloist (Simon): Long Shadows
    4. Corps, Soloist (Simon): Nightfall and Moonrise
      1. The Gathering Dark (Purple Martins)
      2. The Rising Wind
      3. The Waves (Snowy Egrets)
      4. The Moon Rises (Snowy Owls)
    5. Pas de Deux: The Loons
    6. Corps, Quartet: The Guardians at the Gate of the Wild Spirits’ Realm (Night Herons)
    7. Corps, Demi-Soloists (Simon, The Faerie Queen’s Guards [Great Horned Owls]): Simon is Tested
    8. Duet Variation (Simon, The Faerie Queen): Simon Implores the Faerie Queen to Transform Him
    9. Solo Variation (The Faerie Queen): The Faerie Queen Gathers Her Power
    10. Corps, Soloists, Demi-Soloists: The Spirits Gather; Simon is Transformed; The Sun Rises

Act II: Chicago

Act II, Scene 1: A Train Station Near the Marsh

  1. Orchestra: Ravel, “Bolero”
    1. Corps, Demi-Soloists, Duo, Trio, Quartet (the Wind Spirits), Character Parts (Train Conductor, Crossing Guards), Soloists (Simon, the Naturalist)

Act II, Scene 2: Museum Plaza

  1. Orchestra: Saint-Saëns, ‘Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor—i. Allegro non troppo
    1. Corps (Commuters, Tourists, Students, etc), Soloists (Simon, The Naturalist)
  2. Orchestra: Saint-Saëns, ‘Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor—ii.Allegretto con moto (subdivides)
    1. Soloists (The Naturalist, Simon) alternating with corps
    2. Grand Pas de Deux (The Naturalist, Simon)
    3. With Corps

Act III: Scene 3: The Naturalist’s Home

  1. Orchestra: Saint-Saëns, ‘Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor—iii.Un Peu Moins Vite (subdivides)
    1. Pas de Deux (The Naturalist, Simon): The Garden
    2. Character Dances, Soloists (Simon, The Naturalist): a garden party
    3. Corps (Cranes) and Soloists
    4. Solo Variation (The Naturalist)

Act III: The Lakeshore

Act III: The Marsh and the Woods, A Night of Wind-Tossed Clouds

  1. Orchestra: Rachmaninoff, “Isle of the Dead,” Op. 29 (subdivides; I haven’t really sorted the subdivisions out yet).


Obviously, it will continue to evolve, but I feel like acts I and II are pretty solid at this point.

I’m still somewhat on the fence about “Isle of the Dead”—it’s hauntingly beautiful (because of course it is: it’s Rachmaninov) and it works from an atmospheric perspective, but I don’t know if there’s enough that I can do with it dance-wise without it being a gigantic, epic, expensive set piece in which the set does more than the actual dancers. There’s not much of anywhere in it to insert the kind of conflict that can readily be expressed through ballet.

It’s more like, “You slog through the marsh, and then oh look! Some wind. And then more slogging. And then some waves. And then maybe birds? This whole freaking thing is about birds, so I guess that makes sense, but … oh, they’re just going to arrive and then everyone gives each-other side-eye?”

Side-eye is really hard to convey to the top box, you guys.

Also, at 21 minutes and change, it’s pretty long, and I don’t see anywhere in it to give the Naturalist a break. Much like the First Rule of Partnering is Don’t Drop the Girl, the first rule of choreography is Don’t Actually Kill Your Dancers.

So, basically, I’ll probably be delving in the depths of the late romantic period a bit more to see if there’s anything that might work a little better.

There are some really good points at which to work in some foreshadowing in the second movement of the Saint-Saëns; the entire structure of the third movement is exactly on point(e).

So, anyway, that’s where Simon Crane is at the moment. It started out as a loose sketch of an idea germinated in the rocky bed of a small dance I choreographed for an audition video and seems to have grown into something rather full-bodied.

My own little coda:

I realize that there are people who feel that story ballets are passé (I saw the pun coming, but it was already too late…). That doesn’t bother me—humans are storytellers by nature. We love a good story, and my experience has been that story ballets are more accessible to people who aren’t already ballet nerds.

As such, I make no apologies for the fact that I’m busy percolating a weird, atmospheric story ballet based on a kind of post-modern fairy tale that grew up in my head.

But I also recognize that figuring out where to pitch this thing, once it’s actually enough of a thing to pitch, is going to be a challenge.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2017/07/06, in balllet, choreography, music, work and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I don’t think storytelling will ever be truly passé! The chief choreographer of the Zurich Opera House said in a recent interview that he prefers story ballets and will continue doing them.

    • That’s heartening! I admit, I can enjoy a nice abstract ballet or something like Balanchine in which the dancers seem to make the music visible, but I love story ballets best 💞

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