There are times when playing familiar music can make or break a class:
Teachers wanting for music for fouettés or a manège often simply ask for a coda but actually want a known tune like the coda from Don Q, or the famous 32 fouettés from Swan Lake. As an inexperienced pianist, I made the mistake of improvising for this exercise. My improvisation had exactly the same accents and dynamic as the Swan Lake coda but the teacher fussed and insisted that it didn’t feel right. After trying out different improvisations which were rejected, it dawned on me that what she really wanted was familiar coda music.
Within the structure of the traditional pas de deux, the coda is the grand finale of a section of dance where the soloists get the chance to strut their stuff. The audience would have already been treated to a display of technical virtuosity in the preceding solo and partnered dances and the coda really rounds things off by giving them one last look at the dancers’ technical brilliance. Hearing an actual coda from the ballet repertoire seem to give dancers a psychological boost of confidence and gets them into ‘The Zone’ for show-stopping pyrotechnics.
Company class treats
They’ve done several shows and have a long tour coming up. Exhaustion is setting in and daily class is becoming more marked and less danced. This is one of those moments when a couple of well-chosen tunes could make the dancers smile.
I often play for Matthew Bourne’s Company on the Birmingham leg of their long touring season. The dancers there tend to be young and favour more modern tunes so I usually have in mind a few popular tunes (make sure it is well–known to them) from the more modern musicals, TV ads, pop songs , etc.
One year, I chose to play a lot of music which was tuneful and harmonically interesting, but obviously unknown to them. I got a polite, but distant reception and the energy levels in the studio felt flat. The next year, I made sure I was armed with lots of popular tunes and used them with abandon. Despite being exhausted, the dancers perked up, started whistling/singing along, and egged each other on to see who could come up with the most melodramatic interpretation of ‘With One Look’.