The following essay was written by one of my year two A Level Dance students recently, and she has given me permission to share this online. I have made some small edits to spelling and grammar, but the essay is largely hers.
Akram Khan, Matthew Bourne and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui all use aural setting within their works experimentally and in their own ways. Within Khans’ Zero Degrees (2005), he expresses his British-Bangladeshi culture through intertwining bols, and in Dust (2014) he collaborates with Jocelyn Pook to create a haunting score. Bourne’s The Car Man (2000) uses music to structure the narrative of the work, and Cherkaoui’s Sutra (2008) uses fa sheng to highlight the monks’ Buddhist culture. With the help of composers, the aural setting within each work has significantly impacted the way audiences’ view the work when watching, creating links to the message the choreographers are trying to portray.
In Akram Khan’s Zero Degrees, in collaboration with choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, both choreographers agreed on Nitin Sawhney producing the music for the work. Composer Sawhney created music through the introduction of complex bells, for example we hear dings within the work which connote his British-Bangladeshi culture. This is due to the reference of the bells normally being worn on the ankle to create sound due to the flat-footed movement that is performed within kathak – a traditional and religious style of movement performed to show worship to God. This clearly evidences this part of his Bangladeshi heritage and Barhant myths which links to his culture. Furthermore, in section 7 Barhant Attack and Block, we are introduced to Cherkaoui and Khan stood either side of the stage shouting syllables known as bols in the Bangladesh culture and are being performed with anger and aggression. This communicates the idea of confrontation that is taking place, illustrating the tension that is felt towards the audience as they witness it. These syllables are shouting words such as “ta” and “ka” but are performed to sound faster and more violent which projects the sharp intensity of the bols between Khan and Cherkaoui. The use of the bols creates the implication that both Khan and Cherkaoui are frustrated with their dual-nationality as Cherkaoui is Flemish-Moroccan alongside Khan’s British-Bangladeshi dual nationality. They are both stood either side on top of life-size dummies, created by Antony Gormley, which suggests the intention of projecting their inside feelings towards each other as they face each other from a distance. Without the bols and with just classical, normal music, the intention wouldn’t be so effective because the bols show the direct face-to-face confrontation of both dancers clearly onstage. This makes it easier for the audience to understand the piece more which further enhances the ratings and overall profile of the work itself. Therefore, Khan uses personal, cultural, and relevant aural accompaniment to represent the intention of Zero Degrees.
In Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, composer Terry Davies combined two scores, Bizet’s Carmen and Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite, edited by Davies because the original music was not long enough. He used them to structure the narrative of the engagement party and highlight key moments of character to the audience. The instruments created jolly, upbeat music which suggests a party through both the glockenspiel and vibraphone being used. Furthermore, the music is used to create drama within scene, for example the long, ominous, drawn, piano notes which decrease in pitch that creates a sinister mood and brings the tone down. When this happens, the characters Lana and Luca share a moment where Luca places his hand on Lana’s bottom as he squeezes it, holding eye contact with Lana’s husband, Dino, who is about to take a photograph holding a camera. This is a contrast to the previous moment where the music had more of a positive and upbeat feel, now contrasting to a more dramatic and tense atmosphere. This highlights the complex character relationships to the audience so they can understand what is going on. This means they can now enjoy the section more, and relate to the ensemble who are having a good time. Bourne’s use of dramatic aural accompaniment links to his influence of film scores, which comes across as more entertaining.
In Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra, he uses fa sheng alongside silence throughout the work. Fa sheng in Chinese is a vocal sound that is shouted from the monks before performing a movement, particularly as they prepare for an explosive movement. Fa sheng, from an audience’s point of view, sounds like a loud sound made onstage which is described as the motivation to perform the next choreography. For example, in section 3, Maze, we hear fa sheng being demonstrated as the end of the transition has taken place. The child monk, Dong Dong, stands up from sitting on the aluminium box stage right and faces the diagonal of upstage right. He performs fa sheng before performing a quick run into a cartwheel, three back handsprings into a crouch followed by a forward roll. The fa sheng is what initiates the movement and as soon as the child monk lands inside the vertical stood up box. Before this, the music playing during the transition of the boxes creates a practical and logical scene, as the monks look like they are getting things done in a timely manner. Within this section, the monks are flipping the boxes slowly but precisely to create one big square with hidden pathways for the child monk to later explore as the section goes on. The dramatic, isolated piano notes and repetitive clicking sounds are heard as the monks get more precise with their positioning of the boxes, suggesting the idea of clockwork. The introduction of a violin and soft bass drum is heard every 3 piano notes, which are collectively used to build up the section from the beginning to the end of the transition. The abrupt ending of both the music and movement suggests that the job is done, which promotes the practical and rigorous training the monks endure. This transition is also repeated later on within the work after section 13, Animals, where the monks are transitioning from a side-by-side layout of the boxes to now creating section 14, Dormitories, with the same repetitive drumbeats and overlapping clicking sounds with the isolated piano notes still being heard.
Akram Khan’s Dust, in collaboration with Jocelyn Pook, celebrates the recording of the sound score which plays on the audiences’ emotions. The real-life recording of a world war one soldier is heard, days before his death, stating the lyrics “we’re here because we’re here” which is accompanied by crackling sounds. The use of the crackling sounds emphasises how old the recording is which further creates a haunted mood and atmosphere onstage. The recording is repeated as the layering of sombre violin melodies can be heard which further enhances the haunted atmosphere as the audience could feel more connected to the statement that he is saying, now it has been repeated quite a lot. Within section 3, it is about the men returning or not returning as the recording is repeated again. We get this idea through a male soloist and a female soloist being “reunited” onstage together, sharing love and affection as they hug each other tightly. The theme of PTSD is introduced as we are not told, we can only interpret the idea of them actually being there together or it is just an illusion or their imagination? This gives a chilling and repeated haunted mood as we are witnessing two loved ones who have been apart for so long during war and are sharing affection once again, as we can only imply. The use of the real-life recording makes it more relevant to the intention of the piece being about war and, instead, not a random recording that is made up. This promotes the connection with the audience more because of the chilling statement we hear, which could hit the audience members hard with emotions as they listen to the words which could’ve been the soldier’s last.
Overall, all three choreographers, alongside their composers, have promoted aural accompaniment to support the intention of their works. Some composers have projected deeper thought into their works like Khan’s Dust, some have connotations to culture such as Khan’s and Cherkaoui’s Zero Degrees, and some have influenced drama and tension such as Bournes’ The Car Man. All four works have used music as a valued and significant source of experimentation which enhances their works positively and enables them to make connections for the audience to experience. Their music choices have promoted the success of the works, which further promotes the choreographers being recognised for their choreography, as well as the composers use of aural setting that has guided the works to seek positive recognition.