“Passing Moments”: The first performance piece

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Nikki in rehearsal for “Passing Moments”

Our proposal to perform for the In Other Tongues conference meant we had to focus on making a 15 to 20 minute piece. We needed also to shape that piece to the demands of the conference venue. Initially we were to be performing outside on grass.

Performing on such a soft surface meant that rhythms could not be emphasized through the percussive sounds created by tapping or sliding feet. This factor deviated from our original intention, shifting our study of how poetry provides a rhythmic form equivalent to music for dance. We adapted to these constraints by deciding to emphasize the upper body as much as the feet, and to suggest a narrative in the work, rather than relying on pure movement.

There is a narrative of sorts built into my rearrangement of the original poems, which I then recorded as a soundtrack for the dance. Because the percussion of the feet would be lost in the grass, thus taking away an essential “musical” aspect of the performance, I added music to the recording using percussive instruments: shakers, bells and piano.

The narrative is one I’ve used a lot in various ways, in writing haibun and in opera. It’s the narrative of the 24-hour day. In “Passing Moments”, the first poem begins with “morning floats up”, the second and third poems are set in “the afternoon garden” and the last poem presents the dissolving of daylight’s crispness into the “wooly parcels” of evening.

After working on the first section we talked about making the narrative more complicated. Nikki didn’t feel entirely comfortable with a narrative set entirely in the country, and so we decided to add three urban sequences in between the four poems that are set in the green and rural landscape of Devon. The text for these sequences were taken from short poems written by Nikki about her life in London. Here is sequence two:

Domed skies of Europe! Resplendent again & glowing; birdsong your complex heartbeat. Money crouches awkwardly in a corner of its own making.

Revisited the scene of the crime. Place was closed. Standing in the empty car park, it was dark again, but the air was innocent now.

Her idea of the future was a black & white photograph in a fashion magazine that she was never flush enough to buy.

At the summit of the ironing pile, she planted her cocktail stick & called out weakly for a Martini.

So structurally, the dance moves back and forth between two environmental spaces, providing contrasts and enabling us to distinguish ‘parts’ of the story.


In Other Tongues

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Nikki (right) and I rehearsing.

Nikki and I are in Dartington in the southwest of England, and will be presenting a 20-minute dance-poem for the “In Other Tongues” conference. The piece continues what we have worked on off and on for a few years, in  between my return to California, and the illnesses of Nikki’s family and an uprooting of her home. The composition of the piece began with a series of short poems that I wrote in the Dartmoor area. I rearranged them to make four separate poems of poem fragments, which were recorded by sound engineer and composer Adria Otte. To this verbal line we added percussion and field recordings from the area and elsewhere, creating four movements with different meditative backgrounds. Among the field recordings were ocean and bird sounds from south Devon by Philip Goddard, rain, and birdcalls from Devon. The percussion included bells and shakers. I performed these in true Cornelius Cardew Choir random fashion. We had to adjust the levels of these sounds to give them more presence. Since I had opted to perform outside, the recordings and the ambient sounds would overlap. Although I liked the idea of parts of the recording “disappearing” into the natural sounds of the garden I also wanted them to hold their presence. After finishing the first three parts, I was at a loss of what do for the closing part. Piano improvisations kept coming to mind. Looking through her sound files Adria found a short piano improv by Julia Moon that she had recorded several years ago. She dropped it into the mix and it fit perfectly. The music for the piece, which is titled “Passing Moments”, was complete. The entire set can be found on SoundCloud here.