NewMusicBox asks: Can music for dance stand alone? Barbara White



Photo by Steve Gilbert

I rarely expect a dance score to stand alone. In my dance/opera Life in the Castle, the music and dance are extremely interdependent: for example, the singer and the dancer depict aspects of a single character, and the cold, glassy sound of my instrumentation is reflected by mirrored objects in the set. But even though I designed the score to complement the choreography, Life in the Castle has been performed in concert a number of times, and I like to think the music has its own continuity and depth, independent of the dance.

I’m not the first to point out that working with dance cultivates a composer’s accommodating side. (My collaborator, Joan Wagman, would surely say the same of working with composers.) In Life in the Castle, I incorporated explicit grooves to help the dancers hear the meter, and I made the text as intelligible as possible, since dancers often cue off words rather than music! It was the demands of the choreography that initially prodded me in these directions; but now, several years later, I find that these features seem like integral, even natural, aspects of my work. In other words, my compositional voice has been tweaked a bit by the collaborative process, and in that sense, the dance is present even when the music is performed alone.

Hear RealAudio samples from Life in the Castle

Watch video clips from The Eels of Lough Gur (Music: Barbara White; Choreography: Joan Wagman)