Music and Dance An Interdisciplinary Age

“Loops & Lines” (2013) by Stephan Thoss and Ensemble Modern at the Staatstheater Wiesbaden;
“Loops & Lines” (2013) by Stephan Thoss and Ensemble Modern at the Staatstheater Wiesbaden; | © Lena Obst

An interview with Roland Diry, managing director of the Ensemble Modern in Frankfurt, on his experiences with co-operations between music and dance.

Mr Diry, with the Ensemble Modern you have realised diverse productions with choreographers, for example in 2008 with Sasha Waltz “Jagden und Formen” (Hunts and Forms) for the Festival “Frankfurter Positionen”. How did this co-operation come about?

For this work there were several “states of growth”, and back then, during the discussion about the programme of the Frankfurter Positionen, I had the idea of asking Wolfgang Rihm if, after another session of work on the composition, he could imagine it for a choreography. The work then created became a great challenge both for the choreography and for the dancers due to its complexity and its duration of 55 minutes.

How did you proceed from there?

We had been very interested in the works of Sasha Waltz for a long time, and she, for her part, was interested in this project. Long before the start of rehearsals, we played the work to the dancers and the choreographic team; both sides seized this opportunity to exchange thoughts and ideas. The musicians also held talks to determine how far they were prepared to engage themselves in acting on the stage. In the next step we prepared a recording of this original performance version of the work with which the company could rehearse. At the same time, we made suggestions as to how one could “translate” this great score. For the rehearsals it was also important to bring in a conductor who was willing to work with the score, to make it more transparent from a musical viewpoint for the choreographic team and the dancers.

What in your experience are the movement capacities of the musicians? After all, certain movements are required to produce music, what leeway is there here?

That certainly differs from one individual to the next, but each of us has learned to proceed from merely playing the instrument to moving actively into a scene. Basically, there is a great willingness there, but of course it also depends on the instrument as to whether the ideas of the choreographer can actually be realised.

“Jagden und Formen” (Hunts and Forms) (2008) by Sasha Waltz&Guests and Ensemble Modern for the festival “Frankfurter Positionen”. “Jagden und Formen” (Hunts and Forms) (2008) by Sasha Waltz&Guests and Ensemble Modern for the festival “Frankfurter Positionen”. | © Dominik Mentzos Photography How does a work of music change, as was the case with “Jagden und Formen”, when a choreography is added?

This was a wonderful lesson to me. I am actually a clarinettist and took part in the original performances of various “states” of Jagden und Formen. So I know the structure of the work very well. And I am extremely impressed by the way the choreography not only reacts to sound, structure and cast, but also absolutely reflects the architecture of the work so that the viewer or listener can recognise how the various elements correlate with one another.

Do experiences like this motivate you to continue the interdisciplinary work?

Yes, definitely. However, since both institutions - the dance company as well as the Ensemble Modern – are financed and institutionally secured only to a small extent by public funds, all costs of a performance must be completely covered by a promoter or partner. This also applies to costs that would otherwise be paid by public-sector institutions such as, for example, the salaries of musicians or dancers in a state theatre. This makes it difficult to comply with the demand for these productions, to show them as often as we ourselves would wish.

Is the music of the 20th and 21st centuries, which the Ensemble Modern plays basically designed for interdisciplinary co-operation?

Definitely. We are now in an era in which we follow very attentively what is going on in other arts for they also give impulses for our own discipline. We are certainly moving into an interdisciplinary age.

At the end of 2013 you performed “Loops and Lines” with the Staatstheater Wiesbaden and its choreographer Stephan Thoss, which revolved around Rudolf von Laban’s movement studies.

In several try-out phases Stephan Thoss presented us with his ideas on Laban’s movement analysis, and we all then thought about which works were particularly suited to this. In the end, three existing works were selected and we worked out an improvisation together. We really liked this direct co-operation. We concentrated on American representatives of minimal music. In Steve Reich’s Eight Lines the spatial situation is predetermined by the positions of the two pianos around which the rest of the Ensemble is grouped, while in John Adams‘ Shaker Loops with the seven “mobile” string players on the stage it was possible to try out everything imaginable.

What experiences have you made in co-operation with the different rehearsal practices of music and dance? Whereas in dance everything is developed together in the studio, music is often pre-existent.

In the three music-theatre productions of the Ensemble Modern with Heiner Goebbels there were also long try-out phases. Here we gathered experience as to how important the ideas of the individual participants could be – quite unpredictable. Things that in the beginning were only tried out once might be picked up again at the end and play a prominent role. Meanwhile, many composers are interested in this question of co-operation. For example, in the International Composition Seminar we are giving composers the opportunity of trying out their early ideas with us, of discussing the score with us before finishing it. At this point something that is regular practice in theatre and dance is infused into composing. And I believe that this is a very important aspect of present-day work. Of course there were revisions of scores in the past, but incorporating additional input from the beginning has only begun with this translation from the practical operation of music theatre and dance.