Werden – Bestehen – Vergehen Ensemble forma Leipzig

Alte Handelsschule

Gießerstraße 75, 04229 Leipzig

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Krüger, Polzhofer, Schöbe, Schubert

Totentanz: Dieses, seit dem 14.Jahrhundert auftretende, in allen Künsten häufig anzutreffende Bild vom personifizierten Tod, der sich in den heiteren Reigen der Gesellschaft schleicht, war die thematische Inspiration für einen Ballettabend, welcher Neue Musik mit zeitgenössischem Tanz zusammenbringt. Konkret ist nun die Vergänglichkeit des Lebens, der Dinge an sich, des Tanzes und auch der Musik zu einem lockeren Leitfaden geworden. Dabei treffen nun bekannte musikalische Sujets wie der Kondukt und der „eigentliche“ Totentanz auf den langsamen Satz eines Schubert-Streichquartetts sowie auf ein Werk allgemeiner Trauerarbeit.

Sie bilden die musikalischen Vorlagen für Tanz- und Choreographiestudierende und Absolventen des Hochschulübergreifenden Zentrums Tanz (HZT) in Berlin, mit denen wir eine Zusammenarbeit verabredeten. Diese (nicht als Tanzmusiken komponierten) Werke und das Zusammentreffen von Klassischer und Neuer Musik schaffen für die Choreographen kreative Reibungspunkte.

Alexandre Achour, Johanne Timm, Choreographie
Giorgia Minisini, Angela Munoz Martinez, Claudia Tomasi, Anna Till, Tanz
Alida Breitag, Dramaturgie
Ensemble forma Leipzig
Michael Ellis Ingram, Nikolas Nägele, Leitung

Förderer und Partner

Kulturausschuss des Studentenwerks Leipzig
Studentenrat der Hochschule für Musik und Theater "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy" Leipzig
Alte Handelsschule Leipzig
Dr. A. Oetker (Berlin)
PlanB Kulturcafé

Michael Ellis Ingram

Passing through Vergänglichkeit

When we opened the doors, it took less than one minute for every chair to be filled. Still the audience kept streaming in. We brought in extra chairs. Still, they came. We brought in more extra chairs. And a third time, we brought in more till their was no place left for chairs. Still there were people standing in the back, squatting against the wall, sitting on the floor in front of the first row. I could hardly believe my eyes. The first concert of the weekend had attracted a very promising public. The group called “forma Leipzig,” for which I often conduct, is a union of young composers, writers, painters, and dancers based in Leipzig. Their events always include some exciting spin—a recitation of poetry or prose, a silent dancer, an exhibition.

As I surveyed the crowd, I noticed that there was no white hair. I looked again. There was no gray hair. The average age was about 23. For a “classical” music concert, this is unheard of. I took a seat for the first half of the program—my piece was in part 2—and saw that the fellow sitting in front of me was wearing white plastic gauge earrings. He and his girlfriend shared a beer during the show, sipping thoughtfully and passing, sipping and passing. I liked that for some reason.

Ángela from Seville and Giorgia from Venice entered stage right. Giorgia kneeled down on top of a wooden box, and Ángela stood. They slowly turned their faces towards the public and then became very still. They watched us watching them for a long time. Thirty seconds, a minute, five minutes, ten minutes—I loose all sense of time as soon as a performance of any kind begins. Once an organic happening starts to unfold, whether music or dance or theater, the unnatural marking of time by seconds and minutes and hours dribbles out the back of my mind somewhere, and I am happily lost. I know a few people who take the passing and measuring of time very seriously, even to the point of boycotting digital clocks. Most digital clocks display only the hour and the minute, giving the illusion that time lurches ahead once per minute, then stands still as though patiently waiting for something interesting to happen. The next stage of precision would be the old fashioned ticking clock, but this, too, proves inadequate. Time lurches neither by minutes nor by seconds. Time moves like the clock with the smooth second hand that floats over each dash and numeral, never pausing to consider.

Back to the dance. It was called “Object 1,” and it moved me to tears. After a seeming eternity of stasis on stage, Ángela’s body jolted into motion. A tremor began in her gut and radiated with sudden force to the extremity of each limb. First she went stiff, her arms stretched out like a tin soldier. Then she was completely limp like a puppet on a string. One wild pose after another followed in rapid succession. She seemed to eat and drink, to march and prance, to wiggle and wave. She hurled one hand here and the other hand there, her toes turned in and out and in again. There was no music to accompany this dance other than the sound of her breathing and the wild patter of her feet on the stage. This frenzy came to a sudden halt. She held the last pose like someone had pressed pause, and she waited just like at the beginning of the dance. She waited and waited and waited while the audience watched and watched and watched, not wanting to miss her next sudden wrenching out of stillness. After another long interval of time, she snapped back into motion, first fluidly like she was walking through a pool of water, then with bold angles and corners like a Swiss army knife folding and unfolding. Then came stillness again. I began to think that perhaps there were no intervals of time in between her outbursts of movement. Maybe her dance was so strong that the tiny spaces in between motion and motion held us captive, paralyzing us with expectation for the next happening and the next.

And then I noticed something. The other dancer, Giorgia, whom we had all forgotten about, suddenly caught my eye. She had been perfectly still the entire time, still kneeling on the white wooden box. Or had she been still at all? Her face was no longer facing the public; it was turned ever so slightly towards Ángela. Her eyes were cast down a little, and one shoulder seemed to be higher than the other. I trained my eyes on her and would not take them away. During the next few episodes of movement from Ángela, I kept my eyes on Giorgia, completely mesmerized, with Ángela’s frantic shadow cast by the stage lights a hundred times on the back wall. Giorgia was indeed dancing. Her movements were beyond slow motion. It took an eternity for her painted eyelid to raise halfway, an era for the small of her back to arch just slightly, and time untold for her slender arm to fall from her thigh to her calf. And her motions were not only slow, they were also small. Her most extreme move brought her mere inches away from her starting pose, and she never did leave the white wooden box. I was almost unable to perceive her motion at all; I simply became aware after a long period of time that she looked slightly different than before.

Then came the moment that reached into my soul. While we were waiting for perhaps the tenth or twelfth episode from Ángela, I realized that Giorgia’s right hand was no longer resting on her leg. It was suspended ever so slightly in mid air, and it was reaching—slowly, slowly reaching towards Ángela. Her finger flickered with the tiniest hint of life, not as though she were trying to point to something, but as though she were hoping to touch something like life or light, even a wall to gain her bearings. Then Ángela began to move again, but this time haltingly, slowly, gently. She was responding to Giorgia and the desperate glimmer of her reaching hand. But the influence faded. Ángela shook off her little trance and leapt and rowed and flailed more violently than before. No, no, no. She would not respond to the reaching hand. She would be as she would be. And then she stopped. This time during her moment of stillness, Giorgia’s hand slowly moved back to its place, the flicker of life having vanished. Her back, little bit by little bit, gave up its posture and its strength. She was slowly folding into herself, her arms strewn behind her like a letter you never sent. The sadness of the dance was palpable.

The piece I conducted was composed by my colleague Kai Johannes Polzhofer. It is like nothing you’ve ever heard before—or perhaps I should say like nothing you’ve ever not heard before. You see, the piece “Tombeau” consists almost entirely of silence. I begin to conduct, and nothing happens. I keep beating and beating and beating—quietly, gently—for over a minute before the musicians even lift up their instruments. The first time I experienced this piece some months ago, I was sitting in the audience. I saw the conductor start to move and was simply confused by the lack of sound. But as measure after silent measure passed, I realized that an urgent longing for sound was growing inside of me. The expectation I always have before the beginning of a piece of music was now trickling into the first portion of the piece itself. This had never happened before. When I see a conductor give the upbeat for, say, a Mozart symphony, I feel expectation. My inner ear knows what to expect from Herr Mozart, and I want to hear the sound in real time and space. But in “Tombeau,” I had no clues, no context, no imagination, not even a program note to guide me. All I had was a patient, startling, mysterious minute of conducted quiet that left me utterly captivated. Had I not been afraid of breaking the silence, I would surely have been leaning from the edge of my chair, my mouth watering for music. Finally, when my heart had all but stopped its beating from anticipation, a few of the musicians lifted their instruments. But I was confused. The oboist held her instrument without putting it to her mouth, and the violinist lifted her violin but not her bow. In the middle of one of the conductor’s silent measures, he gave a cue. The fingers of the violinist’s left hand darted across the fingerboard—she seemed to be miming, not actually playing—and the oboist clicked a few of her silver keys, sending flecks of light into the room. The sound lasted for less than one second and was virtually inaudible, as though even the music itself were afraid to confront the silence that had accrued. Then, more silence. The conductor kept conducting, and the musicians kept waiting, and I kept falling deeper and deeper into something like a trance of expectation. I was becoming at once addicted to the silence and overpowered by a craving for the sound. I could not move, and I could not take my eyes off the stage. After the second long silence, the musicians readied themselves again. This time they all lifted their instruments. The conductor looked up, gave his upbeat, and a shady millisecond of noise followed. Woodwind keys clicked and pattered, and the string players quickly mimicked their way down the neck of the instrument. It sounded like a single seed of a dandelion dropping into a lake; the ripples were the one hundred times I repeated that sound to myself in the third long silence that followed.

This pattern continued for some time, and the tiny slivers of sound gradually started to include recognizable notes—a plucked string on the violin, an invisible arpeggio from the viola or the cello. The wind players started putting their instruments up to their mouths, yet they could not find the strength for ordinary tone. Instead they breathed in and out through the reed. The flautist hinted at the fringe of an E-flat, but it was gone before I could reach out and grasp it.

By the middle of the piece, I no longer felt that the “music” was the music; I felt that the silence was the music. And not only music, but sculpture. The silence took on a shape, the emptiness a plastic form that I could have reached out and touched had I not sat entranced and immobilized in my chair. I could no longer feel my own body. There was only silence—firm, resilient silence. It was like being surrounded by water or falling through the sky.

Suddenly one of the microcosms of sound grew agitated. It was just as short as all the others, but it did not die away in its half second—it grew. Silence followed as always, and then a short clicking of string and tongue, a question for meaning. Then came a second agitated sound, louder and faster than the first, though just as small as all the others. I felt my heart start beating again at a wild pace. The conductor gave another violent cue, and the musicians erupted with sound. It was like the sudden cracking open of a door that was immediately shut again, a door to a place were suns and stars are born. It was terrifying. It was desperate. It was awesome. Before I could finish trying to understand these three outbursts, a softer sound emerged. It was the first thing in the piece to last longer than a half second. The violin and viola came in together—not with darting fingers, but with a slowly moving bow—and drew a silvery, airy sound from their instruments, higher and more delicate than anything you’ve ever heard and seeming to me in that moment longer than anything I had ever heard. The cello entered with the same while the oboist played a note as pale as death. Two notes, in fact. She was blowing through the reed so gently that her instrument whispered both tones at the same time. The unfinished E-flat came again from the flute, this time full and lush, though very quiet. The bassoonist blew yet more gently than the oboist and with none of the keys pressed down. The instrument hinted at once no tone and every tone. In the timetable of “Tombeau,” this fragile tide pool of sound lasted for an age. It was excruciatingly beautiful.

As I said, this was the piece I conducted on the second half of the program. The chairs were not arranged in rows but in little clusters of two or three, each chair facing in a different direction. The players were scattered throughout the audience from the front to the back of the room, and I was in the middle of things as well, with people watching from all sides. Three dancers performed as “Tombeau” unfolded. Two of them paced slowly amongst the public, wading carefully through the silence and jolting into sudden action with each tiny crack of sound from the musicians. One lifted her hands and guided her shadow across the wall like a kite. The other stood on one leg, then crouched to the ground as though frantically searching for something she had lost, her strength perhaps. The third dancer roamed the room with various simple geometric shapes cut out of black paper which he hung up on the wall and attached to the floor. Sometimes he would place a shape directly in the path of another dancer, and she would leap over it or turn towards another direction or simply stand trembling in its magnetic field.

After the very last long silence of the piece, the three of them assembled in one place, moving ever so slowly in towards one another. Their hands began to quiver and twitch, like the way you feel after coming in from a long walk in the snow. Their mouths and eyes started to open and move and beam with life. They were nourishing one another. They were slowly remembering and resurrecting themselves. It looked like a living portrait. After they nuzzled themselves back to vitality, one by one they returned to the places in the room where they had danced, moving their bodies in the shape of memory, or trying to remember. Then they sat down, joining the musicians in having yielded to the stillness.

Michael Ellis Ingram
November 2011