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[ENG] MUSIC AND DANCE: INDEPENDENCE, INTERDEPENDENCE, AND DEPENDENCE

The Lyric Theatre Complex, the main dance house of the West Kowloon Cultural Authority (WKCDA), with its three theatres of 1450, 600, and 300 seats respectively, is not scheduled to be completed for at least another four years. In the meantime, the dance team, headed by Anna CY Chan, has been working overtime to make sure that when the house curtains go up at the long-awaited venue, the choreography of local artists is prominently presented on its stages. Chan’s mission includes helping ensure that dances by Hong Kong artists can compete with their international peers for audiences locally and around the world. One of many ways that WKCDA is assisting Hong Kong artists to enhance their practice is with its New Works Forum projects that “Act as a platform for cross-disciplinary artists eager to expand their practices into new areas and explore innovative ways of creating, presenting, and discussing topics around contemporary performance”.


In the New Works Forum: Choreographer and Composer Lab, held from 14 to 19 November 2016, WKCDA invited the New York-based composer Ian Ng to team with Kung Chi Shing, the WKCDA’s Artistic Associate in Music, to facilitate a week-long workshop. During the Lab, four local composers with different musical backgrounds were teamed with four young choreographers from the Hong Kong Ballet. “Working in pairs, participating artists exchanged ideas, experimented with different forms of music and dance, and collaboratively created new artistic concepts."

(Clockwise from Left) Madeleine Onne (Artistic Director of HKB), Anna CY Chan (Head of Dance, Performing Arts, WKCDA), Ricky Song-wei Hu (Coryphée, HKB), Alain Chiu (Keyboardist), Fung Lam (Composer), Natalie Ogonek (Corps de Ballet, HKB), Tsui Chin Hung (Guitarist), Yui Sugawara (Corps de Ballet, HKB), Kung Chi Shing (Workshop Leader, Composer, performer & music activist), Ian Ng (Workshop Leader, New York City-based-composer), Mike Orange (Guitarist / Keyboardist), Yuh Egami (Répétiteur / Corps de Ballet, HKB); Photo: Cheung Chi Wai


LEADING, FOLLOWING, PARTNERING


Although dance and music seem inextricably paired, with musical forms derived from dance and dance always engaged in dialogue with music, getting the two right together is often a fraught enterprise. In some dances, the choreography seems to illustrate the music, in others the music is more accompaniment than partner to the dance. Rather than support development of the choreography, at times music can overshadow it, and at other times undermine the work of the most outstanding choreographer. When dance and music work together, however, to quote Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and something magical is created.

Often, choreographers start with a piece of music they like, one that fits their intentions or inspires them and they choreograph a dance to it – alternately, they find suitable music during or after the choreographic process and amend the dance or the music to fit each other. If they are fortunate, however, they collaborate with composers. The process of choreographer and composer working together may be led by one or the other of the creators or may be a collaboration in which each is equal partner in contributing ideas and guiding the direction the work takes.


Among the more well-known choreographer and composer teams was Marius Petipa and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Their first collaboration, with the director of the Russian Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky in 1890, resulted in one of the ballet canon’s most beloved works, The Sleeping Beauty. “And it was a genuine and engaged collaboration: Vsevolozhsky and Tchaikovsky’s graceful and beautifully mannered correspondence reveals the respect and warmth they felt for each other, and the three men met frequently to exchange ideas… Tchaikovsky also often appeared at Petipa’s home and played what he had written on the piano while Petipa shifted his papier-mâché figurines around a large round table.”[1] For their next collaboration, The Nutcracker, Petipa chose the Alexandre Dumas père adaptation of the E. T. A. Hoffman story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. However, rather than the sustained, harmonious working relationship that they had enjoyed during their first work together, according to American dance critic and historian, Jack Anderson, for The Nutcracker, Petipa gave Tchaikovsky extremely detailed instructions for the composition of each number, down to the tempo and number of bars. Petipa also fell ill at the beginning of this collaboration, and Lev Ivanov, the Second Ballet Master, took over. The third and final Petipa/Tchaikovsky ballet, Swan Lake, was originally choreographed by Julius Reisinger in a production that was considered a failure and Tchaikovsky died soon after Vsevolozhsky approached him to discuss a revival with Petipa’s choreography.


Yuh Egami (Left), Mike Orange; Photo: Cheung Chi Wai


In modern times the process of choreographer and composer working together harmoniously in the creation of a seminal work is epitomized by the collaboration between George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky for their 1957 work, Agon. The two met often during the formative period of the work, and continued to do so until the première. “A few details were altered during the final rehearsal period, but Stravinsky also attended many of these sessions and had an equal voice in any changes. Members of the original cast have recounted his active participation, and Martha Swope documented one of these rehearsals in photographs. Stravinsky, at age 75, is even seen demonstrating steps to the cast.”[2] Agon is a prime example of something that is greater than the sum of its parts – as Alex Ross notes, “You hear Stravinsky’s score better when you watch Balanchine’s choreography”.[3]


Two creative artists working closely together with a shared conception of a work and its structure, narratives, and other details, however, is not the only model that choreographers and composers use. In Collaborative Process Between Music and Dance (1982), Merce Cunningham reflected that “music and dance could be separate entities independent and interdependent, sharing a common time.” It was a notion that dated back to Root of an Unfocus a work on Cunningham’s first solo concert in New York City at the Humphrey-Weidman Studio Theatre in 1944. For the piece, he and John Cage planned the duration of each of the work’s three sections so that music and choreography for each would begin and end at the same time. In other words, music and dance would have a “common time,” both in the sense that their duration would be the same and that they would happen at the same time. But beyond this common time, music and dance would be created separately, independently, and without reference to each other.


Tsui Chin Hung (Playing guitar), Yui Sugawara; Photo: Cheung Chi Wai

FINDING INDEPENDENCE, INTERDEPENDENCE, AND DEPENDENCE

In Hong Kong, opportunities for choreographers to work with composers are rare. To address this, WKCDA invited four up-and-coming choreographers – all are dancers with the Hong Kong Ballet – Yuh Egami, Ricky Song-wei Hu, Natalie Ogonek, and Yui Sugawara to work with four young composers