Heartland/Virtual Descent

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If you have ever wandered through the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, you may have noticed a wall to the left of the ticket desks made up of lots of backlit panels. On these panels are the names of all the organisations and ensembles working in the centre. It represents the myriad talents and arts nurtured below the centre's very impressive bronze roof.

In this past week we have been working on a project that represents a major collaboration with one of our neighbouring organisations - recording a percussion concerto with Julian Warburton, written by our composer-in-residence, Mark Bowden, that will be the soundtrack for a new work by Eleesha Drennan, house choreographer and company member of the National Dance Company of Wales.

It is interesting to note that this is a dance score with a difference, for this project is very much the synthesis of two independent works combining to make one whole. Mark's work is called Heartland (a reference to Heartland Theory), while Eleesha's is called Virtual Descent. Set in a futuristic society, her work explores the role of modern technology on humanity, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.

My knowledge of dance extends only as far as considering Stravinsky's ballet scores sacred, believing Carlos Acosta to be one of the most beautiful beings to have ever walked this earth, and having a major girl crush on Tamara Rojo, and so, it was interesting to chat with Eleesha to find out about her creative process.

What struck me most was not how different the disciplines of dance and choreography are from the study and execution of an instrument and music, but how similar. Eleesha talked of starting with a concept, gradually fleshing it out, seeking inspiration from research and various influences, a gradual zeroing in on fine details that allow the work's overall intention or sentiment to shine through - a process similar to that of learning a new piece of music.

Mark's Heartland is a percussion concerto which is, like many percussion concertos, a feat of athleticism, never mind virtuosity, for the performer. It features a new instrument - the aluphone - which was played by Evelyn Glennie at the opening Ceremony of the London Olympics. Its creators describe it as combining 'the timbre of the Tibetan singing bowl, the vibraphone and the tubular bell' - take a look and let me know what you think. There's certainly something quite hypnotic about it!

It can be difficult to 'get' what a work will be like when you are on the inside looking out. In the same way that a work of pointillism makes little sense up close, so to it can be difficult to visualise what a work in its completed state will be like. Without seeing any of the choreography it feels like we only saw a little of what the work will be like.

Having very much enjoyed Eleesha's Phantoms of Us for NDCWales last season, I'm really looking forward to seeing this work staged. You can catch it too during the NDCWales' Spring Tour, the details of which can be found on their website.

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