macabre |m??käbr?; -?käb| adjective, disturbing and horrifying because of involvement with or depiction of death and injury : a macabre series of murders.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from Frenchmacabre, from Danse Macabre ‘dance of death,’ from Old French, perhaps from Macabé ‘a Maccabee,’ with reference to a miracle play depicting the slaughter of the Maccabees.
Dance of Death
For the past three years Blackheath Halls Orchestra and Laban’s adult dancers have collaborated to present a matinee and two evening performances at Blackheath Halls at the end of Autumn term. This time one of ghostly music and dance. Two choreographers, two groups of Laban’s community adult dancers a conductor and Blackheath Halls Orchestra create an event of dance and music.
At the beginning of this school year I was asked to join choreographer Stella Howard from Laban in this enormous project. Covering for Lee Smikle who has been Stella’s other half for the past two projects creating their versions of Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. This year it was slightly different instead of one great work, Stella and I were given 4 great works of music. Theme; Danse Macabre.
After our ‘pre-project’ meetings we seemed to have found a way of connecting all of these by the theme. Goblins, witches, zombies climbing out graves and marches to the scaffold were at the base of our creative tasks and dance phrases. As much fun as this Halloween invested project sounds it is up to us as choreographers not to make this yearly contemporary music and dance performance success into a circus. So we had to take the creatures and characters of Danse Macabre and form more abstract movement ideas. Working in solo, group and duet formations both dance groups soon found their contemporary dance way through the imaginary mud and graveyards. On top of that for the past two projects it has been a exploration for the choreographers to get the dance and music merging. Rather then having the original set up of an orchestra and dance performance in their traditional places and spaces the task this year was; how can we make it more of a collaboration. Starting off with a joint rehearsal at Blackheath Halls a few weeks back, we got the orchestra members kick off their shoes and dance together with our adult dancers from Laban. Exploring some of the creative tasks Stella and I had worked on with the dancers. Followed by the dancers sitting in the orchestra and being able to move freely through, change positions in and around the instrument playing musicians. Getting a feel for how the musicians move when they play their instruments and see how the musical director leads them through the music. It was a very successful collaboration in rehearsal now the task to find a way of using that in the performance!
It’s great fun working with such dedicated adult dancers with so much input and passion. It’s an absolut creative drive for a choreographer in a project like this where we only have 2 hours a week to choreograph to an hour and half of music. We have now started our extra sunday rehearsals where Stella and I combine the two groups, work on the links between each part and next week we will be having a joint rehearsal with the orchestra. And slowly but surely Danse Macabre is coming to life.
This year we will be performing a matinee and two evening performances at Blackheath Halls. Get your top hat and lace gloves out and come and see us!
Featuring music by Mussorgsky Night on a Bare Mountain, Saint-Saens Danse Macabre, Purcell When I am Laid in Earth, Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
*Monday night’s performance is a “special masquerade” event as part of the ‘Sampler’ Festival organised by Lewisham Council. Dress up in a gothic style, have your face painted, and enjoy the spooky drinks served by our bar staff!
Tickets: £9 | £7 Get your tickets here.
Photos; rehearsal dancers and orchestra