JOURNAL is a process diary, monthly digest of choreographic work as well as containing reflections, dialogs, notes and contemplations. It subscribes itself to diverse formats and forms, changing as it goes along, and shaping itself out of the requirements of the moment at hand.
Music for Horizontal Contemplation

While renewing our energies over the summer, I am embarking with this month’s text on a 3-part essay (following parts coming up randomly) where I will try to lay out a structure and a process behind a ballet that I created in 2016, with and for Ballet of Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, titled DARK LANDSCAPES. Creation of that piece started in July last year, so there is an interesting a-year-after memory of a rehearsals process.

“The near 40-minute length of ‘Two5’ is remarkable in its rigorous insistence on both the awareness by the performers of space as a “non-place” and the complexity of how the score is arranged to bring out the microtonalities of the trombone by virtue of its semitones – located six steps between.” /// (a quote by a music journalist Thom Jurek about a new edition of John Cage’s album ‘Prelude for Meditation’)

There are several different strings of choreographic structure of DARK LANDSCAPES. Let me start in this text with the one that is closely connected with John Cage’s composition for piano & tenor-trombone titled Two5, from the Prelude for Meditation.

In my choreographic processes, I often develop a singular constitutive part of choreography not with a final music of the piece, but with different music subscribed only to that part. And then at the end of the process, a final music arrives to layer, to deepen and to connect all the parts together. A depth created by this kind of music usage builds a certain inner history of the piece that enables dancers to expand further and to relate to the material with different understanding.

John Cage’s Two5 was one of the music choices for the development of a crucial part that was danced by the male ensemble. It enabled a movement structure, a movement idea to be grasped and danced, and then afterwards to be embedded in to the larger set. Choreographically, it started very simply with an idea there is a possible pas de deux within a male side of the movement scope. A possibility of defining and extending that scope within the male portion of the ensemble. We started with minimalistic transitions through the space, with structured embarking in to the spatial line, in to the horizontal sculpture and a movement pulsation that connected a single duet with an accumulation of simultaneous duets. Developing this further in smaller and larger groups, dancers expanded in diverse ways of experiencing flow and rhythm of the movement as well as relations between figures that are being created along the way.

To carry and to be carried, to transport and be transported, to place and to be placed, to position and to be positioned, to observe and to be observed; these are the images that appeared while developing this material further. A choreographic grid that appeared out of that created a spatial basis for the whole piece. Marking the space and of the figures within that space created a rhythmical holding pattern, sort of an asymmetrical relation between doing and silence that was then gripping across other movement materials that are about to come later in the piece.

Dancing this particular set-up was challenging in its minimalism and maximalism; almost pedestrian, organic standing in silence is counterpointed with formal volume of the figure in its sculptural tension. Many subtle body details determine a grounding and focus, while holding the awareness of the total space surface. And also, holding an open inclusion for the dynamic of the second choreographic layer that is happening simultaneously. It required from dancers a body-focus that is calm but present, silent but attentive, imaginative but selective, autonomous but open for the collective flow. It took us some process-time to gather all this strings in terms of bodily understanding, but also in terms of conceptual grasping of the motif in total. A visceral journey that each dancer experiences while shaping it, being with it and in it, differs immensely from a mere structure of its outside, of its choreographic or performative appearance. In another words: the dance feels different then it looks. And it looks only in a context of a relation to others or to The Other (as in: a totality of otherness).

Music composition of Two5 allows a specific kind of opening for inner and outer choreography.
/// (In its sturdy duration it reminded my of A Collection of Rocks, a work that John Cage premiered in 1985 at Music Biennale in Zagreb (or maybe it’s just a good moment now to show you this gem). A short video of which can be found HERE. ///
A spaciousness in sound (long pauses that are punctuated by instruments) is able to embrace whatever the next tonal shift imposes, creating a sense of a dense liquid. It is fun to think about it as: are pauses punctuating music, or is music punctuating long pauses? In that double-vision of presence and absence, the movement (in music and in dance) is a loop that suspends itself by annihilating itself – endlessly invigorated and perpetually dissolved. Like gripping in to the nothing, where the mere repetition of gripping becomes a new solid, a new ground.

That new ground, new solid became an inner grid of the piece, as softly visible as grid usually is; here and there, in present continuum and crucial in its imperative of inner calmness. Dancers told me that a full extent of this task was not palpable until performing a piece in complete duration on stage; sensing the timing of the whole and sensing the waves of activity of other choreographic parts crashing in to the flow of the grid created a challenge in calmness and precision that holds it. As the piece flows further, a potential for a sudden dynamic emerges; some unexpected jumps, clear striking forms or patterns of other sequences are filling in. A grid dissolves, gradually becoming a part of the work. In another words, the work itself is growing around the grid, offering new and other pathways of themes, dynamics and tensions within the shapes.

In that sense, John Cage’s music lesson on withholding and punctuating was a perfect instructor of these contrasts. Viewing it from a distance now, autonomous interior of this part is a contemplation in itself, a rumination about relations, time flow and invisible details.

At the end, let me mention all dancers of this part: Guilherme Vitić Gameiro Alves, Tomaž Golub, Adam Harris, Duilio Ingraffia, Ovidiu Muscalu, Kornél Pálinkó, Andrea Schifano and Takuya Sumitomo. Thank you guys, you rock.

/// More about the final shape of DARK LANDSCAPES: HERE.

Published: 25/07/17

A first part of a 3-part essay about structure & process of a ballet work DARK LANDSCAPES, premiered in November 2016, that I created with and for Ballet of Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. Written by: Marjana Krajač