Devising BRETHREN – final piece of the PhD puzzle

BRETHREN logoOver the last three weeks I have been devising BRETHREN for choreographed orchestra, the final piece of my PhD.

Rehearsals have been compact, with a half-hour of content to get through for the premiere next week.

Luckily, I have had a fantastic group to work with, The Assembled, which I have been a member of since 2012. Membership has changed over time, yet the group has always been very strongly and enthusiastically committed to trying anything and everything new and experimental.

Joining The Assembled are a number of other Music students, together totalling 14. Though I aimed to recruit a larger community group (and received many responses apologetic that they could not commit to all rehearsals), the piece will work well this size. A stage can be filled by one person, let alone a whole sinfonietta. The group divides evenly to suit a chamber orchestra aesthetic too: 3 wind, 3 percussion, 7 strings, even a harmonium in lieu of a concert grand.

Though I’ve made pieces with all the players before, I have been amazed at how wholeheartedly they have thrown themselves into it, pushing themselves physically and learning movement and music by memory. The adventurous attitude of the students is what makes York such an exciting place to collaborate and compose.

This week I invited Rachel Fullegar, dance artist, teacher and member of Gracefool Collective (collaborators in That’s Yer Lot!), to attend as a rehearsal director. She gave us some insightful advice about thinking through the reasons for movement and performing purposefully to embody the piece’s themes. I won’t explain the piece away now – there’s an overly long programme note for that…

BRETHREN feels like an opposite bookend to Remains of Elmet, made in 2013. As I write up the PhD, the difference in process seems even more marked. For Remains of Elmet, all theatrical and musical material developed from close analysis of the Ted Hughes poems. That generated a bank of metaphors and themes, allowing me to construct the narrative, design ritualistic stage layouts and movement, then write the whole thing down on manuscript paper.

Making BRETHREN has pushed me as a composer and as a director. Although I knew the quality of the movement I was after, the movement itself had to be created by the performers so as to allow them to perform movement authentically, freely, individually. Conceptualising the piece was like imagining a series of images that I knew would be there, but without colour – a paint-by-numbers waiting to be painted.

My previous devised processes included an initial experimental phase in which material was generated, filtered, focused, then refined before rehearsing the final performance. Time could not allow this for BRETHREN, so rehearsals had to follow a close plan of specific movement games and tasks that could produce the desired style of movement and overall aesthetic.

Group 2 interpreting instruments as weapons

Last December I was able to test some concepts and ideas with fellow Musicians in Residence at The Banff Centre. I talked about that in a previous blog. Suffice to say, I learnt a great deal about the piece and about directing there.

At a recent conference in Sheffield, I remarked in my paper that I am no longer certain now that music is the medium in which I want to make work. The problem with that phrase is how you define ‘music’. My PhD’s title, ‘Music is Theatre’, tackles this notion of what we consider separate fields, the boundaries of which disintegrate very quickly in certain contexts. Anyway, that is another story, remaining to be written…

For now, here are some rehearsal snaps to give a flavour of BRETHREN. To find out what’s going on, you’ll have to come to the premiere on 4th May at York Spring Festival – click this link for tickets and more information!

Those not in York may be able to stream the performance live here:

devising BRETHREN

devising BRETHREN

devising BRETHREN