"The Swedes definitely do better rehearsal breaks – fika (coffee and cake) beats British tea and biscuits any day of the week."
Fraser Anderson, Scottish Ensemble
Scottish Ensemble buddy up with Andersson Dance to perform Prelude - Skydiving From a Dream across Sweden
Glasgow-based string orchestra Scottish Ensemble and Stockholm-based contemporary dance company Andersson Dance are two companies that believe in collaboration. In 2015, their first work together - Goldberg Variations – Ternary Patterns for Insomnia – reimagined Bach’s masterpiece as work for an integrated company of 11 musicians and 5 dancers. This piece captured the imagination of audiences both in the UK and abroad, and has toured throughout Europe, the USA and the Far East. In 2018, they premiered their second collaboration, Prelude – Skydiving From a Dream, in which musicians and dancers explore works by Beethoven, Bach and Lutosławski that push at the boundaries and restrictions of artistic expression. This new work comes to Sweden for a 5-city tour from the 19 until the 27 March 2019 through Dancenet Sweden, and will return to the UK in 2020.
The British Council spoke to Fraser Anderson at Scottish Ensemble and Magnus Nordberg at Andersson Dance / Nordberg Movement about the collaboration.
Why (and how) did you decide to combine forces and work together?
This is the second collaboration Scottish Ensemble (SE) and Andersson Dance (AD) have staged together. Our first – Goldberg Variations – Ternary Patterns for Insomnia – was an interdisciplinary work that combined 11 musicians and 5 dancers to create a compelling new production around Bach’s masterpiece that has now toured throughout Europe, the USA and the Far East. Ever since the 2015 Stockholm premiere this work has continued to tour the world, and perhaps it was with some sense of inevitability that Jonathan Morton, Artistic Director of Scottish Ensemble, and Örjan Andersson, Artistic Director of Andersson Dance asked whether we should consider returning to the rehearsal room to create something new.
While there may have been a sense of inevitability about asking the question, there was nothing inevitable about the answer. Months of conversation began. Playlists and recordings were swapped; narratives and texts were examined; musicians and dancers were consulted. In the end (we think at a hotel somewhere in Norway!), it was decided that we would take the plunge and rise to the challenge of beginning a new production following our first success. Prelude – Skydiving From a Dream is the result.
How do you rehearse when you are in different countries?
Easy, we use Skype in the comfort of our own rehearsal rooms. No, if only it was that simple! The physical process started with Örjan and the dancers. They worked (in Stockholm) for a period of weeks to create the initial choreographic response. At a later date, Örjan and some of the dancers joined the musicians in Scotland for a series of workshop or development sessions where they explored how the choreographic material could sit alongside the live musical performance by SE. At this stage Örjan also began working with the musicians to develop their on-stage movement material – this work is exhilarating for the players! Örjan and the dancers restarted their rehearsals in Sweden before returning again to Scotland for a joint development and rehearsal period of around 10 days that ran straight into the premiere performances at Glasgow’s Tramway. For a work of this scale and complexity the rehearsal period is ambitiously short!
Does nationality ever matter in your collaboration?
To some extent the answer to this question depends on your definition or interpretation of ‘nationality’ and ‘matter’! Sweden, Scotland and the UK share cultural traditions and histories, and these inevitably inform our work together. The development of arts and creativity in these nations is distinctive yet shared – it is also dynamic. Could this work have been made in or be ‘of’ anywhere? Probably not. But the creative teams who perform in and have produced Prelude – skydiving from a dream are from diverse backgrounds and perspectives – perhaps this fact is a positive reflection of contemporary European life.
Scottish Ensemble’s musicians are drawn from different parts of the UK, Europe and beyond while Andersson Dance works with a wide variety of international performers, which is typical of the contemporary dance world. But significantly, the Swedes definitely do better rehearsal breaks – fika (coffee and cake) beats British tea and biscuits any day of the week.
What’s your opinion on the importance of outreach work / why do you do it?
Both companies integrate and prioritize a wide range of outreach activity throughout their work. However, we were especially keen to open up these collaborations and their process to a broad audience, particularly because of the way they so closely integrate the two artistic traditions and groups of performers. We’ve found that dancers and musicians of all levels relish the chance to collaborate with each other, but that the opportunities to do this are limited. Our aim is to offer a spark of inspiration to those who are, or who could become, interested in the possibilities of collaborative dance and music work. This activity is incredibly rewarding for us: just as few artists wish to create only for themselves, few performers don’t take joy in passing on their knowledge and expertise.
On 23 March at Dansens Hus in Stockholm we will also reprise a longstanding Andersson Dance event format where audiences are introduced to the choreographic process through a pre-show discussion.
How is this collaboration different to others?
Every collaborative project is different, but there are aspects of our work together that are unusual. Collaboration has become an overused buzzword – it’s a term used to describe everything from economic efficiency to straightforward consultation. But for our work together, the term does carry an important meaning and a significant weight. Every aspect of the production is worked on together, from finance to lighting design, from music choice to costume design. While everyone in our team respects expertise, we have managed to foster a creative culture where decisions can be challenged, and solutions improved. Some companies talk about collaboration when they really mean commissioning – in our case we really do start as equals and with an (almost) blank sheet of paper.
Do you anticipate a Swedish audience to react differently to a British audience?
The last time we performed together in Sweden the audience seemed to laugh a lot more, but that was in a very different kind of show! Generally speaking, Swedish and British audiences are fairly similar in their reactions. It can be fun to take work to places like the Far East or South America where reactions are more noticeably different.
When you make films of the performances, how do you ensure that the electricity of the live event is still conveyed?
It is incredibly difficult to do this without the resources of a broadcaster. Somehow, to convey ‘liveness’ the recording needs to be more i.e. a single camera recording with a basic microphone set-up can’t capture the magic. We’ve been fortunate to collaborate with some very talented self-shooting directors over the years, but we would love to broadcast a full production.
How do you go about choosing music for improvised dance?
There are different ways to approach this choice, and to date we have explored two methods. For our first work together, we explored complete musical works that would lend themselves to choreography and this guided us to Goldberg Variations. This option worked well because the variations consist of different movements or sections that can be broken up; it also worked well because were able to mix existing string trio and string orchestra arrangements so that some of the musicians could more easily engage in movement work.
For Prelude – skydiving from a dream we wanted to create a musical, choreographic and narrative journey with different musical works. In some ways this is a more challenging thing to get right as it introduces a new layer of narrative, namely the connection between the different musical works. Most of the music choices are made before we start rehearsals, but we always leave some room for flexibility just in case it doesn’t work quite as we imagined!
What are the challenges of combining music and dance?
Music and dance are like two branches from the same tree. They are two of the oldest means of human expression and have been paired together for centuries, so the challenge is more about how to add to the significant achievements of our colleagues both historic and contemporary!
How do you marry the necessary discipline of the classical music with the freedom of the dance?
We would politely challenge the premise of this question! What is the function of discipline without freedom, and how can we enjoy freedom without discipline?
Both artforms have these needs in order to flourish, but their meanings and interpretations are different within each tradition. One of the most rewarding things about working together is learning from the perspectives of the other!