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Looking back on 2023: My year of composing for dance, dance and dance


Amelia Clarkson in rehearsal for Six Dance Collective's White Doves (Belfast, 2023).

The whirlwind that has been 2023 feels like a special one, so on this final day of the year, I thought I'd take this opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months.


Composing for dance projects has always been quietly ticking along in the background alongside my concert works and PhD at the RNCM. However, when the clock struck 00:00 on 1st January 2023, I had no idea that the entirety of my coming year would be taken up by composing for classical and contemporary dance, creating a 2-act ballet with Six Dance Collective, a new contemporary work for the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company and a film for mobile app thrown in for good measure.


I present to you my compositions unwrapped of 90 minutes of music that I made this year and the choreographers, musicians, conductors, dancers, venues and other creatives I had the joy of doing it with:


Corners

Six Dance Collective. Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and Trinity Laban.



My year kicked off with a fun project commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and Trinity Laban, where I finished my Masters in 2019. The London Sinfonietta's Blue Touch Paper Programme was designed as a longstanding research and development project, currently focussed on exploring the possibilities of new music created and presented for digital devices.  Together with two other composers at Trinity Laban, Mikey Parsons and Nye Parry, we each created a piece for multiple users on smartphones, with the aim of devising shared experiences for groups of people to engage in together.


I approached this project interested in the ideas of a coming together for folk who used it, and was drawn to the idea of an image emerging across the devises, both audibly and visually. Following scoring and recording a short 5-minute work with Terra Invisus and flautist Daniel Shao, I collaborated with long-time collaborator choreographer Ruaidhrí Maguire on a visual element idea which isolated specific parts of the body of four dancers, pairing them with four musical elements of each instrument. When combined together by four or more app users, the piece created a full picture, becoming Corners.


A short extract is available above, performed by dancers Rui Nagahori, Milena Crameri, Mayu Takata and Ruaidhrí Maguire.


 

White Doves

Six Dance Collective. Choreographed by Ruaidhrí Maguire. World premiere: 3-5 August 2023 at the MAC Belfast.
White Doves at the MAC Belfast, August 2023.

"How's the ballet going?" was my most commonly received question of the year. The ballet was a labour of love and dedication which has been gradually making its way to the stage since the middle of 2020, when a lull since our first one-act ballet Dear Frances (2019) found us in the midst of Lockdown 1 prompted Ruaidhrí and I to question, where is Belfast's ballet?; and me to ask, and might it have birds?


White Doves was Six Dance Collective's inaugural production. We knew that our first work at home in Belfast needed to put the city at its heart. Finding the story of the first peace marches in the conflict-torn city in the 1970's and the formation of the Peace People was our catalyst, and we slowly developed this abstract-narrative world to explore our country's past and future from the viewpoint of the post-Troubles generation as creators. It became Belfast's first ever ballet, about Belfast, for a Belfast audience and stage, created by local artists.


I began writing the score in early 2021, but truth be told, the vast majority of the 75-minute work was composed between January - May of this year (definitely not July. I definitely didn't finish it in July). Conventional practice for making new narrative works today is choreographer-led, however, we work a little differently, live in the studio with dancers and alone, with a constant back and forth and sense of sharing to build characters, structures and music and dance which cannot be separated. In March 2023, we workshopped the music with conductor Jonathan Mann and our ensemble of musicians. Whilst workshops aren't always possible, I was really delighted to fit this in with the support of the Hinrichsen Foundation, as it allowed me to hear huge chunks of the material mid-way through the final stages of my process.


My soundworld for the piece was defined by ideas of Earth and Sky, and that special place where they meet. I pulled from trad. folk influences into my own developing voice, which is something I do anyway, but it had a particularly special place here for some of our characters. Our vision was that the Doves would serve to communicate some of the impact and trauma of the violence on the community through our abstract mediums, so finding a fragile cross-section between fragile and violent was at the forefront of my mind.




The final element of collaboration on my end was working closely with conductor Jonathan Mann over a series of 8am phonecalls for days, possibly months of our lives. Under his care, he expertly brought the music to life with our wonderful ensemble of musicians: Clare Hadwen, Aoife Magee, David McCann, Aisling Agnew, Kevin Lawless, Cahal Masterson and Brian Rice.


White Doves premiered on 3 August 2023 at the MAC Belfast.


The music for White Doves was supported by the PRS Foundation, Vaughan Williams Foundation and Hinrichsen Foundation.


Learn more about White Doves on Six Dance Collective's website here.


 


Ephemeral

Dutch National Ballet Junior Company. Choreographed by Wubkje Kuindersma. World premiere: 3 February 2024 at Meervaart Theater, Amsterdam followed by an 17-date national tour across the Netherlands.

My final work of the year has taken me to gorgeous Amsterdam and into the welcoming setting of the Dutch National Opera and Ballet. Commissioned for the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company, I've been creating a new 10-minute work with choreographer Wubkje Kuindersma to celebrate the Junior Company's Tenth Anniversary in their national tour of the Netherlands. This collaboration is my first time working with Wubkje, and it has been such a joy to get to know her and her work and to create a new thing together which will premiere in February 2024.


After a lengthy period of sharing, I started sketching material in mid-August, before my first trip to Amsterdam where I workshopped the material with the ensemble of four musicians from Het Balletorkest, sharing a few snippets of this early work with the public in September's Open Haus.


Following this initial period, Wubkje and I worked together to pull together the final structure and material before she put this into action in rehearsal with the Junior Company dancers. After a final few tweaks, I finished the score and the new piece became Ephemeral. I returned for a third time to record the music with the ensemble in preparation for January's rehearsal period.



Ephemeral will be performed in the Junior Company's Ten programme from 3rd February - 17 March 2024 across the Netherlands, alongside works by choreographers George Balanchine (comp. Glinka); Krzysztof Pastor (comp. Wojciech Kilar); Joseph Toonga (comp. Orin Norbert & Joshua Benjamin) and Kirsten Wicklund (comp. Caccini).








Looking to 2024

Some new music for 2024 is on its way!


New scores include one (possibly two) concert works and a new dance piece. I'm looking forward to the live world premiere of Ephemeral in Amsterdam on 3rd and 4th February, and on 1st June, Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble will premiere my work The wind cries at the state of her house at the Ulster Museum, Belfast.


Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me this year, including funders PRS Foundation Women Make Music, the Vaughan Williams Foundation, the Hinrichsen Foundation and Mendelssohn Scholarship who have supported my PhD this year.


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