Sunday, February 15, 2009

Arvo Pärt

There was an opinion piece in The Guardian blog last year about the overuse of Arvo Pärt's music in film soundtracks. "This is music that drops jaws in any context", said the journalist. "Lest Pärt's sound begin to work in the opposite direction, jolting us from our involvement with a film as we recognise what a cliché its use has become, it is I think time to give it a rest."

I think the same could be said about its use for dance. There was even a special event held the Guggenheim in New York where only dance pieces set to Pärt where performed (plus a piece by installation artist and photographer Sophie Calle). Here is a random list of dance pieces set to Pärt's music I was able to find within one hour of internet searching:

Miguel Robles to Tabula Rasa
Wheeldon's Misericordes to Symphony No3 for the Bolshoi
Wheeldon's Liturgy to Fratres for New York City Ballet
Wheeldon's After the Rain to Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel
Alonzo King's MAP for Lines Ballet
John Neumeier's Othello (Spiegel im Spiegel and Tabula Rasa)
Ulysses Dove's Dancing in the front porch of Heaven for Royal Swedish Ballet (to Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten)
Susan's Marshall's Kiss for Pacific Northwest Ballet
Jessica Lang's De Profundis for Colorado Ballet
Matjash Mrozewski's Castle Nowhere for Royal Ballet (3rd Symphony)
Lynne Taylor-Corbett's Code of Silence for Carolina Ballet
Andrew Simmons' Through to you for Royal New Zealand Ballet (Spiegel im Spiegel)
Inbal Pinto Dance Company's Shaker
Mui Cheuk-Yin’s Season N for City Contemporary Dance Company in Hong Kong
Paula Conduit for her own company Vortex Dance Theatre - the piece Es Sang Vor Langen Jahren is used in her dance work Conduit
Leipzig Ballet's The Great Mass, by Uwe Scholz
Araiz's Numen for Group Motion Dance Company
In the Middle of the Moment - Uri Ivgi and Johan Greben for Scottish Dance Theatre
Three Pieces for Het -Van Manen for Dutch National Ballet (Psalom)
Johan Inger's Walking Mad
Mats Ek - Smoke for Sylvie Guillem
Mary Anthony Dance Theatre - Lady Macbeth

Now why is this music so popular with choreographer? I have looked for interviews where choreographers would explain their choice of music, but haven't found anything.

Critic Susan Yung said 'Pärt’s compositions invite collaborators into a shared space, a helium-filled elysium' and, Bjork, when she interviewed him for a BBC documentary, said 'I like your music very very much because you give space to the listener, he can go inside and live there'. Is it this 'space' that Pärt creates that attracts choreographers? It is easier to choreograph a piece to his music?

Arvo Pärt's works also have this power, universality and beauty - they create a special atmosphere. Does that make it easier to choreograph as well? But then, are choreographers choosing the easy option by letting the music take such an important role? Or is it actually more difficult to create movement that matches the resonance of the music?

I don't have answers to any of those questions, but I do wonder if it is not time, like in movies, to give Pärt a bit of a rest before we get bored of it.