Sleepless in Stockholm

Filmmaker-in-residence Hugh Carswell has been with us in Sweden documenting the first performances of Goldberg Variations - ternary patterns for insomnia. Here he shares his thoughts into what is, for him, the real heart of the project. 

"Last night was the premiere of Goldberg Variations - ternary patterns for insomnia. It’s been an exciting time in Stockholm - seeing this unique project come together.

I’m here to document the project - filming, photographing, sound recording. My aim is to observe and try to get an honest representation of the process and the work. Like last year’s successful Scottish Ensemble collaboration with Glasgow based artist Toby Paterson, this project again puts the whole team in a state of creative exploration and hopefully, discovery.

Working with Swedish choreographer Örjan Andersson, and five highly trained and skillful dancers, the musicians find themselves in potentially uncomfortable territory. To be precise, the territory involves dancing and moving with the music - as well as playing it. Under lights. With props and stage direction. In front of very large audiences. This might be common in pop, rock and dance music, but classical musicians… really?? There’s been no evidence of comfort zones this week in Stockholm and ironically, given the show’s title, there has been much talk of sleepless nights.

This is no trivial matter. The musicians have gone through a process of learning physical self expression - which Örjan has incorporated into the show. The idea is not to attempt to magically turn them overnight into Margot Fonteyn or Rudolf Nureyev, but more to allow their commitment to the music to be represented physically. Alongside the expertise and beauty of the professional dancers, there is a poignancy to the musicians movement.

Loving the music, I’m personally so glad that there is such joy and energy being expressed on stage. There are sophisticated contemporary touches yes, but at the heart of the piece the dance brings an extra experiential dimension to the sound. I haven't been up close and personal with such skilled dancers before. There is something so liberating about their sheer energy - explosive and powerful, and then suddenly tender. The live music being performed from amongst them fuelling their movement. 

World Premiere, Dansens Hus, Stockholm

World Premiere, Dansens Hus, Stockholm

For filming I have been shooting a lot in high frame rates (allowing slow mo of the movement when required). This means very large amounts of data to be managed, so I work a day and a night shift. Day time is grabbing and night time is filing. A few emergency trips to Stockhom’s technical suppliers later, I have an array of hard drives ticking away most of the time day and night.

The piece is ever evolving - with numerous changes and refinements every single day. I know, from my own work, that the creative process in the development of something original can be challenging. It’s something that feels intensely personal and important, but is generally invisible to the outside world or the people who eventually experience the end result. Örjan and Jon are clearly driven to play with the multitudes of expressive dimensions available to them - all the time balancing the need for contemporary interpretation with the purity and eccentricity of Bach's original work. I’ve found the process interesting to observe, and it has been a privilege to be part of the evolutionary process.

During performances I attempt to hide, perch or hang from interesting angles to grab footage, without interfering with the audience experience of the show. Last night I was positioned on a lighting truss high above the stage (you can see the angle from the included picture taken of the performers at the end of the show).  I hope that the material I get somehow conveys the honesty of the approach, the commitment of all involved, and the emotional impact of this brave new work."

[Hugh Carswell]