DANCES IN THE DARK – programme note
Dances in the Dark has the most complex compositional history in my entire output. Rossen Milanov asked me if I had a work for the Princeton Symphony Orchestra to perform, and I selected a suite from an opera that had been premiered by the Royal Opera in 1998 – Heroes Don’t Dance. This opera was the closest I had ever come to writing a musical. The culmination of the somewhat tragic story was a fancy-dress ball, and so the whole opera was written in ballroom dance rhythms. Various set pieces from the opera have been re-used in a few chamber works, in particular a rumba that is an encore piece that exists in versions for violin, or viola and piano.
It is a curious thing when confronted with one’s own work of years – fifteen in this case – earlier. Either it stands up on its own and you wonder how on earth you ever did it, or you find it needs improving, and you start to tinker. The latter is perilous, as there is danger in throwing out the baby with the bath water. After a few weeks, I found I was bored with my straightforward dance-suite, and I withdrew it from my work-list.
In May 2013, I was invited by the Hermitage Artists Retreat for a residency on the gulf coast of Florida where I was supposed to be working on a new opera project. At the last minute contractual problems delayed the opera and I was left with a gap in my schedule and the luxury of time. Doodling with some of the ideas from the dance suite, I discovered that they took on a life of their own, and started down a totally new path. Like ghosts from a vanished landscape, they suggested a new title – Dances In the Dark - and the work was quickly finished in the summer.
There are four discernible sections that run on without a break, three of which are explicit dance rhythms – 1. A waltz – or rather various species of waltz: 2: A rumba and 4: a kind of lopsided conga. The third section is harder to pin down, and contains allusions to an old Connie Francis number, and a rather dreamlike barcarolle, mixed with threatening birdcalls and a series of deep brass chorales. The most explicit remnants from Heroes Don’t Dance include a silky, slightly Hollywood-ish waltz, and a rumba; but most of the work, particularly the atmosphere and mood, is brand new. The whole piece is a compendium of anything you might get up to after dark – a mix of the sensual, the scary, scented, drunken, wild, sated, nightmarish, overdosed; and there is an after-hours illegal rave in the last section which jumps the tracks and brings the work to a shuddering and spectral conclusion. Though the work uses the orchestra in a virtuoso way, it is scored for conventional forces, with the addition of a prominent piano part.
© JULIAN GRANT 2014