A deep dive into our starting point for new 2-act ballet White Doves, with the musical and choreographical development of the work's title characters.
The premise for a new ballet for Belfast came in the midst of 2020, in Lockdown 1. Choreographer Ruaidhrí Maguire and I had recovered from our first one-act ballet, Dear Frances (2019), which told the story of 1960's East End's Frances Shea and her deadly encounter with the Kray twins.
In the midst of the very cloudy first lockdown, a conversation arose about a possible second work, and we knew that this one had to tell a story from home. As Belfast isn't represented anywhere in the classical dance canon, we knew it would be more lthan likely that this would become Belfast's first ballet (more on that later!).
Coming from the 'post'-Troubles, or Good Friday Agreement generation, it felt important that we use our combined voice to reflect on ideas of peace and identity from our stances from this end of the conflict, and our combined stance as people collaborating cross-community (this means we each originate in traditionally opposing communities. With this in mind, we knew that with having dance and music as our form, that this new work could blend abstract with narrative to paint both fact and fiction for our audiences. After considering a few narrative options spanning mythological to historical, we settled on the latter, with the emergence of the Peace People movement in the 1970s taking centre stage.
The base idea was that we'd combine earth and sky to paint a semi-historical, semi-ethereal realm which aimed to communicate the impact of trauma and violence, without actually staging those events to audience members who may have experienced living history.
First material: writing a pas de deux
Supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, we kicked off the process by creating the central pas de deux (duet) with two dancers in Spring 2021. This is a fairly conventional starting point for a large-scale work, as the duet's main material goes on to influence physicality for the rest of the work, which in our case were the work's title Doves.
Whilst collaborative patterns are very much in flux throughout the two year process, Ruaidhrí and I collaborated heavily on this central section in this first instance, working live in the studio interspersed with moments of separate practice. My driving word at this point was 'sky', and I made several (borderline unplayable) first sketches which were focussed on lofty string harmonics at rapid speeds. As RuaidhrΩí developed the movement language with the performer, we defined a structure which created a sense of coming together, as the Doves represented two sides finding a new way to communicate.
Following this initial creation, I revised this section several times, the end result of which may be heard here, with a version created specifically for string quartet: