Goldberg Project programme note

Most pieces are conceived in an instant, triggered by an unexpected approach, a tentative enquiry and a straightforward offer. ‘Would you be interested in doing a piece together, working with… choreographing…?’ Catching you off guard, images flash through your head as you attempt to make some sense of how you and the task might intersect. Although all the real hard work is still to come, I personally find that this first rush of ideas mysteriously steers the creation of the piece...

When Tamara Rojo approached me about creating a piece for ROH2 in the Linbury Studio Theatre, I immediately imagined moments of intense concentration and focus – sometimes just observing, sometimes marking with her hands – alternated with bursts of powerful dancing and razor sharp attack and precision. Her presence in the room and absorption in everything she does became the initial inspiration for the piece.

It is my role as choreographer to listen and watch: listen to the music to the point where it seems almost internalized and then watch the dancers. This act of observing begins the minute the dancers step into the studio. I watch them warming-up, marking out the steps, practising, or just sitting at the back of the room talking, waiting, watching.

From my vantage point the rehearsal room is a charged space of potential movement from the moment the dancers enter. It is often at the periphery of this space that something unexpected and exciting happens: a sequence performed to a different piece of music, facing in a different direction, or gestured through in silence. Sometimes it is just how the dancers quietly interact with each other during a break, or how the light through the window falls on a dancer’s face and suddenly tells a whole new story. It is these variations of the known that constantly inspire, make you reassess and develop the piece.

Tamara Rojo in The Goldberg Project

These fleeting moments of variation in the rehearsal room are what we have tried to capture in Goldberg: fragments of dancing, marking, being, and hints of relationships, emotions and stories.

The Goldberg Variations seem to have a certain lightness of touch and at times they have an almost improvisational quality – thirty completely different pieces set to the same underlying bass. I think one of the pleasures we derive from the Goldberg Variations is the joy of recognizing the known in the new. The pleasure is the same as knowing the map but experiencing the landscape for the first time. And maybe the journey through the landscape is the best metaphor for Goldberg. It is a very human landscape where we observe human behavior and emotions from a distance without ever lingering there for too long. As Glen Gould says:

It is, in short, music which observes neither end nor beginning, music with neither real climax nor real resolution, music which, like Baudelaire’s lovers, ‘rests lightly on the wings of the unchecked wind’.