In Stockholm, Sweden, five dancers are rehearsing for a new show - nothing out of the ordinary. But soon, they’ll be joined by 11 classically-trained musicians who will learn to move alongside them.
The result will be a far cry from the more expected remit of dancers dancing, and musicians music-ing, standing or sitting in the background as a static entity, providing something invisible. Instead, the musicians will become visible, and in doing so, shift the focus onto a newly created entity - this uniting of sounds in the air and bodies on the stage.
It’s hard to describe in writing - but maybe that’s because it shouldn’t be described in writing? This thing both sides are trying to create is by definition a non-tangible thing between the realms of the visible and aural. What’s more interesting, at this stage, is to look at how this thing is created. What happens in the mind of the dancer; what happens in the mind of the musician? What happens in the mind of the creator?
Let’s start with the music. The focus, the thing they are uniting around, is a piece written 274 years ago and which has since been interpreted, interrogated, transcribed and reimagined by musicians, composers - but not so much dancers.
Örjan Andersson, Artistic Director of Andersson Dance - a contemporary dance company based in Stockholm and making bold, dynamic, physical performance - explains the lure of this particular piece.
“I have always been interested in music, in the different forms it takes. Music and musicality are central to my choices when I’m creating a work. The music becomes a libretto or a script for the movement - but I definitely don’t want to tell a story. It’s the structures, on a number of different levels, that are the fundamental components.
The Goldberg Variations are the epitome of structured music. There was something incredibly attractive about getting to grips with a piece that has been played to death, that is weighed down by an endless number of images and is so full of emotional impressions.
The work is framed by a theme (an aria) which is then developed into thirty variations. The entire basis of the piece is four bass notes. There are brief motifs covering three notes from one part to another in syncopated rhythm. There are sequences of notes that criss-cross each other, trills, arpeggios, chromatics. In the sixteenth variation the overture begins again and the second part, if we can call it that, begins. The score offers breathtaking mathematical excursions, dances in threes, a wealth of ”threenesses” that recur repeatedly, and is, quite simply, indescribably rich. Not to mention all the variations on a canon... Bach himself wrote that the piece is ”for amusement and enjoyment”. It’s like moving between heaven and hell! But it is a fantastic playground to delve into.
There’ll be sixteen of us on stage, eleven musicians and five dancers, who will create the entire performance by functioning as a unit. Jonathan [Morton, Artistic Director of Scottish Ensemble] has drawn me his map of the variations so I know when he thinks the ensemble need to play standing still. There is sure to be doubt and confusion along the journey. But in the end, it’s always magical when music and movement become something greater than themselves.”