Category Archives: Simon Crane
A few years ago I wrestled with composing a solo piece about grief set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
At nearly 8 minutes, it’s quite long for a solo, and I don’t think I had the choreographic wherewithal to make it work back then. I’m still not sure I do. I set it on the back burner, figuring maybe I’d come return it sooner or later.
I’m not sure, at this point, that I ever will. Instead, I’m setting a piece for seven dancers about being alone and unseen amidst the bustle of humanity to the “Adagio.”
The title of the original piece was “Shadowlands”–a reference to the film about C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, which is itself an exploration of grief, but also in reference to Lewis’ phemonenal book, A Grief Observed.
I might retain the original title. The new piece as it has evolved comprises seven dancers: the Four Sisters, the Lovers, and the Outsider.
The Outsider is consigned to the shadows at the edge of human connection, and often shadows the others.
That said, I’m leery of using that title, as it’s too close to Pilobolus’ Shadowland, which I hadn’t even heard of at the time I created the original solo piece.
The first draft of this piece will be shown at the June 1st meeting of Louisville Movement Exchange, a nascent choreographers’ workshop and dance-community connector. I won’t have a heck of a lot of time to set and rehearse the piece, but it doesn’t need to be polished (or even finished).
I’m trying to do as much development as I can beforehand, though I will very likely have to modify things based on the set of dancers I’m working with. I think I’m much better at imagining choreography than I was a few years ago—not least in terms of envisioning how to use the stage.
Given the exceedingly-limited rehearsal time at hand, I’m debating whether to concentrate on setting the first half and taking things from there, or just dive straight into the second half.
The advantage of beginning with the first half, of course, is that if we miraculously bash through it, we might get to the second half anyway … and, to be honest, it’s the part I feel less sure about.
The advantage of beginning with the second half is that I have a really strong, clear vision of it, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be quite good.
I suppose, ultimately, my dancers will determine how I approach the piece: the whole thing builds to a group overhead press-lift, and I plan to try to set that first, since it’s the thing that’s most likely to be uncomfortable for them. Most of them will never have done that sort of thing before. It’s not actually very hard (it’s literally six people doing the lifting, and they’re lifting one person), but it can be daunting.
I also kind of need to decide if I want to be in this piece if I have enough dancers that I don’t need to be. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I would, in fact, love to perform this piece, but setting a piece and learning it at the same time can be problematic, since it’s harder to adjust things on the fly when you can’t see what’s happening until you watch the video.
I’m also back to slowly sorting out problems with Simon Crane.
I think I might set the “Bolero” for a later meeting of the Movement Exchange. I’m not 100% sure it’ll make the final version of the ballet, but I really, really want to set it, and it can stand on its own.
I’m also fiddling with the score still: I’m now fairly certain that the third act will be set to Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony (E minor).
I’m still not entirely sure what to do with the first act.
I would, however, like to finish this ballet before I die (not that I plan on doing that any time soon), so at some point I’m going to just force myself to make a decision about Act I. So I guess it’s back to listening to Romantic/Impressionist music and seeing what fits the story arc.
As regards Act III, I am deeply fond of Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead,” but by itself it’s a bit on the short side, and it doesn’t afford quite enough range to really develop the story. I’d love to use it for something someday—maybe something that doesn’t even have an underlying story or concept—but trying to force-fit that with some other piece of music for the third act of Simon Crane isn’t going to work.
Saint-Saëns’ cello concerto will continue to anchor the second act; indeed, if I leave out the “Bolero,” it will be the entire second act.
So that—and the little piece I’m building for PlayThink, which is rather a lot of fun—does it for choreography projects for now.
More on the PlayThink piece later, of course.
After Pilobolus intensive, I semi-intentionally put Simon Crane on a back burner for quite a while. I had discussed it with a couple of people whose insights made a lot of sense, and I wanted to let their wisdom percolate for a while.
I meant to get back to work on it in a month or two, but life being life, I kept feeling that it wasn’t time yet.
Anyway, today it resurfaced on its own, with a very clear thought about Acts I and III.
Specifically, there’s a very explicit transition in Act I from the world of the marsh, which follows one set of (magical) “rules” to that of the city, where the “rules” at least seem more prosaic (I think cities have their own magic, but that might be a different ballet). This is part of what allows the arrival of The Flock, with its wild magic, to be threatening in Act II, even though The Flock believes it is acting in the best interests of its own lost member (that is, Simon).
The connection I had failed to make, though, was that the reverse should also be true. The journey of the Naturalist in search of his lost/stolen beloved must explicitly be one that involves the transition from the Naturalist’s world, in which he feels that he understands the “rules,” to that of the Marsh, where he does not.
This thought makes it easier to structure Act III: before, I wasn’t entirely sure how to frame to Naturalist’s journey, or to explain his trepidation even to myself. I don’t want him to be a swashbuckling hero (as much as I love a good swashbuckling hero/ine)! I want him to be a very human man caught up in something he doesn’t understand, doing his best to cope because that’s what you do when you love someone.
The other thing I’m contemplating is “Bolero.” I love the dance in my head, and I’m going to set it sooner or later either way—but E at PSW pointed out that the music already has a powerful life of its own, both as music-qua-music and as a famous ballet. It wouldn’t be wrong to use it, but it might overshadow the rest of the work.
I’m still thinking about that: I might be standing too close to the problem; it might also be that the “Bolero” section of Simon Crane really is strong enough to work.
Lastly, I think I’m going to revisit the score. I’m very unsure about Satie for the opening dances. I’ll have to listen to it again, and see what’s what. Act III might also need to be reset.
Class today was sound, given that I’m tired and sore from a very long Saturday. It took me til centre to really wake up, but once I did some decent work happened.
I dreamed that I had decided to do a tap number for my PlayThink piece, regardless of the fact that A) there’s not really a stage at the venue suitable for taps and B) I haven’t tapped since I was, like, ten.
But, much as in real life, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a complete lack of appropriate facilities and the required skill set get in my way 😛
In fact, I’m doing no such thing. Rather, I’m choreographing a rather syncretic piece to Queen’s “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy.” Admittedly, that would make a sound platform for a tap dance, if I knew how to tap dance, but I don’t particularly and I don’t plan to spend the next five months doing Emergency Tap Class.
As it stands, “…Lover Boy” has a very Vaudeville feel that calls for jazz-infused choreography, which falls outside my comfort zone (which, basically, comprises “ballet and trapeze”), but not so far out that it feels unreasonable.
I had intended to use something a bit less up-tempo; something similar in tone to Trenet’s “La Mer”—but sometimes one’s Muse cracks one upside the head and says, “You’re gonna do this and you’re gonna like it.”
Muses can be jerks sometimes.
Anyway, after being assaulted by the Muse (which sounds, to be honest, like a title you’d find in the Romance section of the Kindle Unlimited catalog), I spent a little time last night putting together some ideas. I think it’s going to work, and I have until July to make it work. I have also imagined some ways to incorporate Denis that will be possible even though he won’t be able to really use his right arm yet, but we’ll see if I can talk him into it.
I’ve also got kind of a choreography workshop thingy coming up that should be cool. I don’t think I’m going to workshop this specific piece, though: rather, I’m going to see if I can find a partner for Barber’s “Adagio” or start working on either “Bolero,” one of the the pieces for Peace, or the opening piece for Dancers Watching Dance, which is (of course) the Four Little Swans.
I’m leaning away from DWD, though, because as much as I love the idea, it’s explicitly comedic ballet, and I feel like “…Lover Boy” is borderline-comedic and could stand to be balanced with work on a serious piece. “Bolero,” as a standalone piece, falls somewhere in the middle: Simon Crane is a reasonably serious ballet (which is to say that in the great tradition of ballet, we suspend our mirth at the idea of people madly in love with birds and vice-versa), but “Bolero” is very much a kind of production number that could be played for laughs.
It’s really interesting how quickly I click back into Ballet Boy mode. I’ve spend my break consumed by self-doubt, and several times thought about throwing Simon Crane out the window and never trying to choreograph a full-scale story ballet at all … and yet here I am, thinking very seriously about choreography again.
One last bit. I’m kicking around a plan for a wee choreography or improv retreat weekend some time this summer (or late spring). I’m basically the worst planner ever, so this is a terrible idea, but I really want to try to make it happen, and I think I have some good ideas. Having a camper that sleeps four in dedicated beds and up to seven if you convert all the things helps: we can snag a site with a picnic pavilion at a state park or whatevs and people don’t have to necessarily tent-camp. I think that if I start planning now, it might actually happen.
Everything was reasonably functional this morning, which was good, because Advanced Class began with four of us and two had to leave after barre. The remaining pair of us got quite a workout.
JB was like, “I always end up with two students,” and I said, “It’s a sign. You should be teaching pas de deux class.”
Sadly, we did not get Pas De Deux 101 (or even 095: Remedial Pas De Deux–Topics In Not Dropping The Girl And Not Kicking The Boy In The Hereditary Storehouse).
- True story, which I’ve probably already told: when we were rehearsing Vivaldi Variations, two of the three girls in the Sirens group were convinced that they were going to kick me in the, erm, shenanigans. In case you’re wondering, the best way to guarantee that you’re going to kick the boy in the Hereditary Storehouse while doing assisted fouettés is to be afraid that you’re going to and thus stare directly at his No Fly Zone. The foot goes where the eyes go.
Instead, we got a demanding class that was entirely about weight transfers.
Most of it was good. Since I know I can do quadruple turns, I’ve been dialing back the quantity factor in order to improve quality. As such, turns and terre-a-terre went quite well, except when I got a bit too excited about a developpé à la seconde balance from sus-sous and knocked myself off my leg.
During petit allegro, for some reason I could do royales during the mark but not during the actual run. WTF even is that?
I still hate royales, but that probably means I should work on nothing else until I nail them down.
At least now I’m able to do them in such a way that they don’t look like a complete afterthought: JB does them really cleanly, and I finally got my head around the idea that a royale isn’t so much a lame, beaten changement for people who can’t do entrechat six as it is a showy little flutter: you beat out-in (front)-out-in (back).
I think that in the past I’ve always beaten the first stroke of my royale to the front instead of to the side, which makes it both nearly invisible (en fact, in fact, it can be completely invisible) and probably not actually a royale—it occurs to me that, basically, only cabrioles and assemblés battus do that.
Our grand allegro went something like:
sissone faillie (passing through a clean first!!!)
fourth arabesque à terre
[something else might have been here?]
coupé-chassé-rond de jambe (en relevé)
tombé-“pas de bouchassé”-brush-grand assemblé
pique third arabesque
some other kind of chassé-developpé sequence
repeat on other side
- At first I kept doing some weird kind of cloche thing, which made it difficult to get to the arabesque à terre efficiently.
It was a really cool combination. My tour jetés were kinda lame (like, BW would’ve made me go back and do them again, and HIGHER, and SHARPER), because I was pretty cooked by then, but I’m still so happy to be jumping again that it didn’t really matter that much.
- …Even though the part of me that likes to impress my teachers with my prowess as a jumper was really annoyed.
I think, though, that as much as I’m happy to be jumping again, my favorite combination today was a waltzy thing in which we changed facings via passé from fifth to a lunge in fourth three times in a row.
It was really quite pretty, and I think I managed to do it without getting the arms backwards at all … which, honestly, is one of those awkward ballet things. Internally, I’m half like, “YESSSSS! NO BACKWARDS ARMS!” and half like, “WTF are you doing still getting your arms backwards, you jackwagon? Aren’t you past that yet?”
- The answer, of course, is, “Mostly.” It still happens on occasion, at apparently random intervals, and thus I live in fear of doing some or another combination otherwise beautifully, but with the arms entirely backwards. What even is that.
We also did a nifty center tendu in which we paddled ourselves around the eight points of the stage using ronds de jambe à terre. It felt, I don’t know, contemplative might be the right word. It reminded me of doing fancy paddling tricks in a canoe.
I want to say that was the same combination in which we ended with a tour lent en dedans at passé through to attitude derièrre. When I picked that one up, I initially thought that the tour lent was supposed to be en dehors, which in turn made me wonder what we’d done to make JB hate us so much 😉
It was hella awkward with the tour lent going the wrong way, since the transition into attitude derièrre happened during the turn, which meant that if you did the turn backwards, you had to work twice as hard to keep everything together (because momentum, and turnouts, and physics, and stuff).
Anyway, it’s all improving bit by bit. There are days that I suddenly really feel that I’m a better dancer than I used to be—like, I feel it in my bones, with a kind of immanent certainty.
Today wasn’t one of those days, but it was the kind of day on which I can see that I’m making incremental gains. I think the difference is that sometimes everything just comes together, and I dance well enough that I feel legitimately gifted, whilst on other occasions I just feel, you know, serviceable.
But, honestly, my goal is to be a serviceable danseur. There’s much to be said for being serviceable: it bears with it the notions of reliability and competence. Yes, when you’re having one of those “gifted” days, your teacher or AD or whatever tends to take notice: but over the long run it’s important to be serviceable, reliable, and competent.
Speaking of which, my sissones did not suck today. So there’s definitely that.
In other news, after listening through a couple more times, I’ve decided to stop banging my head against the impossibly huge wall of Late Romantic Era music and just leave the score for Simon Crane as it is for now. If it proves impossible to actually set “Isle of the Dead” effectively, I’ll sort it out later.
For now, I just need to keep listening to it and working the story into it.
In semi-related news, I have a playlist on Amazon Music called “choreography,” and I have no memory of adding half the things that are on there. On the other hand, one of those things is the first movement of Beethoven’s “Waldstein,” which I suspect might be as fun to choreograph as it is to listen to and to play[6, 7].
- Which is in fact probably shorthand for having, at some point, decided that it would be fun to choreograph the whole thing.
- Which, you guys: if you know how to play the piano passably well, go get yourself a copy of the music for the Waldstein—Sonata No. 21 in C Major—and give it a whirl.
- Seriously, the first movement at least isn’t terribly hard. I figured a lot of it out by ear in high school before I ever clapped eyes on the music. I do have a very good ear, but honestly it’s pretty friendly.
One more class (maybe two, if get antsy I take class Monday morning before I leave) and one Pilates session before Lexington. I’m trying to be chill, but honestly I’m so excited I feel like I might explode.
Oh, and while we’re on it, here, this is finally up on YouTube thanks to CM:
I’m vaguely iffy about posting this at this point, because I feel like I’ve come a long way since then 😛 But there it is, finally. 11 girls and me in BG’s “Vivaldi Variations.” I’m still pretty pleased with how well it came together, given our broad array of experience levels and our abbreviated rehearsal schedule.
Feel free to laugh at all my weird attempts to compensate for the fact that I’m scared out of my mind of wiping out due to the whole Shoe Incident. Also, there should totally be a drinking game that goes with this; something like, “Put the video on repeat and drink 5 shots if you actually spot the shoe” (you can, in fact, see it—and once seen it’s hard to un-see); “Take 1 shot every time Asher drops his arms;” etc. Edit: Oh, yeah, and “Take 1 shot every time Asher lets his turnout go,” though you probably won’t make it to the end of the first repeat if you use that one.
I was having an awkward kind of morning: got a little tipsy last night, stayed up too late, slept badly, woke up early (whichever one of us taught my cat that it’s possible to awaken humans by tap-dancing on their bladders needs a swift kick in the tuchas), started reading, lost track of time, failed to eat, etc.
This translated to a wonky start at barre. I couldn’t figure out where my pelvis was or find my lateral obliques or keep my arm from wandering off to do its own thing. My head kept getting ahead of my arm. I tendued to second, then went, “Hmm, no,” and adjusted (which drives both JB and BW crazy).
Midway through one combination, during a sus-sous balance, JB sauntered over, grabbed me by the back of the neck, reset my head and neck, and then used both hands to physically move my entire ribcage.
I tried not to do the weird thing where I respond to someone touching me much in the way that a sea anemone responds to the touch of a potential predator, though it took a little doing.
Anyway, I had mostly sorted myself out by the time we got around to going across the floor and doing jumps, though I was momentarily distressed by this bizarre phenomenon in which, during a mark, my brain went, “assemblé!” and my legs went, “CABRIOLE, MUTHA****A!”
On the other hand (foot?), there were some nice cabrioles in there, so…?
Since this entire combination was assemblés changing direction and leg until none of us could remember which leg was which, that obviously would’ve been a problem.
Anyway, tomorrow should be better. Today the plan is (in no particular order, except for the “early to bed, Nyquil if necessary…” bit):
- catch up the finances
- mow the lawn
- make dinner
- early to bed, Nyquil if necessary because insomnia and insane allergies are making my life difficult
Oh: I’m considering Schumann’s A minor ‘cello concerto for the third act of Simon Crane. I haven’t listened all the way through it yet, but the first movement sounds promising.
For all that, though, I’m still not at all sure that I want to do away with “Isle of the Dead.”