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“Rich Bitch - HOTEL - ambiguous duplicity” - Ballet Score

Composer: Anthony Gustav Morris

ABOUT THE TITLE: I have written about this in the FAQ and have talked to a lot of people on this subject. I am a composer, not a world expert on feminist sensibilities. I am however a reasonable and sensitive person (at least I try to be) so there is a questionnaire as to whether this title is a good or a bad thing and, if it is overwhelmingly negative, I'll change it, which may happen anyway, it has three titles because of just this!
Ref: AGM-01072013
Commission (Anon)
35 Minutes
2009

Status: Score and parts available (rental)

Ballet score for medium sized orchestra.
The brief for the piece
Before starting this project I asked for some advice from those who would know and one letter I received is quoted here:


London, 20th August 2009

Dear Anthony,

You can think about writing a ballet score? Keep it within the following specification if you can.

An ideal length would be between 30 and 40 minutes. This allows it to be used in one half of an evening so another work by say, Stravinsky can occupy the second half. It can even be a one-act opera if the theatre wants to involve both genres in a program.

Keep to one stage set for the whole piece. Think also about filming requirements for budget 3D programming. Try and find a theatre willing to cooperate with you on this as a project.

Make the storyline to involve characters who have different personalities and come from differing backgrounds socially. Allow for variety of dance skill. Characters who may not be soloists but have strong character attributes with also soloists who can portray beauty and grace. Give a group of dancers some space to do something. Finish with a Finale that is exciting!

With interludes for conveying narrative, make solo variations that are between 2 and 5 minutes as this is an ideal length for stamina and interest. At least one nice Adagio for spectacular soloists to show extreme skill.

Make a contrast between variations. Strong characters require strong music and try to bring some lyrical beauty to the other solos. Let some instrumental soloists carry the characters on stage.

As to the musical style; please make this “accessible” for immediate appeal! Don’t write anything in a musical vocabulary that can’t be instantly really appreciated by an audience that is used to TV and Film. This should be enjoyable entertainment and not “high art”. You can do that with your other compositions.

Use an orchestra of medium size. Not Mahlerian proportions but something that a theatre can afford to take on tour but impressive enough.

Good luck, I know you can do this!

Best regards,
Why write a ballet score?
Narrative in dance, i.e. telling a story on stage through dance has been one of my fascinations. I love dance in any case, abstract and also where there is a narrative. To write music that is an enhancement to movement and where movement is an integral part of the music is a combination that just works for me. There are so many ways to do it wrong actually, music can be ignored by choreographers, it can compete for the attention of the audience and both of these are wrong. The skill is in accompaniment and support, knowing that dancers are not pedigree horses and can benefit from an uplifting and supportive musical score is simply fascinating.
How have you gone about preparing this piece?
The first challenge was the narrative itself. Normally, (if there is such a thing as normal), it is certainly not the job of a composer to write a story. Especially not for a dance project. However, in this instance there was no impresario to come along and explain his/her wishes so I chose a venue, a hotel, and picked some characters to appear and imagined how these characters would and could interact.
Was that difficult?
It got rather convoluted and complicated because I was very used to operetta and fairy tale romantic stories through my work as an orchestral musician. The world of Lehar, Robert Stolz, the passions of Arabella and the likes have always been a refuge for me from some of the more harsh realities of life. The same is probably true for many people. So I invented typically operetta-like characters for my little plot basically thinking that at some point reality may dictate me losing them anyway. It then occurred to me to look at each one in a more tabloid press or even more realistic fashion.
What do you mean by that?
Well, in an operetta you mainly get what you see. The Prince will inevitably be charming and desirable, the Cinderella character so true of heart as to make her something even I would dream of. I just thought, well, maybe what if the handsome manager at the hotel were in one world, that of the operetta, a perfectly just and honest upright strong manly etc. etc. character but actually that was only show. In life things are basically this way. We can't really know what people get up to but we can presume from our social conditioning that people are not stereotyped for nothing.
So you gave the characters an alter ego?
I made basically two plots. One an untouched operetta scenario and the other a rather more unveiled interpretation of the characters. One of the main characters, a rich lady who arrives in fur and with hand-made luggage is for example just presumed in the one plot to be a regular guest who has special relationship and respect from the management, a somewhat brisk character with the staff, one of whom has very discourteously called her "Rich Bitch" behind her back but whom, in the parallel plot has been given an interpretation of the same actions and character that shows her as a successful "escort" who works from the hotel for a few weeks every year and her main client is the manager.
How does this relate to dance?
Dance is a wonderful medium for the imagination and also for preconceptions. If you don't know the plot of a narrative ballet, say Swan Lake for example, it gets a bit much to ask for an audience to understand from what is going on on the stage exactly what the story is. Thus the filling in of the gaps from remembering the story or reference to the notes in the program to make it clear, allow an empathy with the characters even. What I have wanted to do here is have two possible parallel plots that can both work with the same movements and gestures on stage. The choice of what to believe is happening is up to the audience depending on which storyline they want to believe.
Are you trying to make a point with this?
Not especially. It became something else of interest and added another dynamic to the musical composition.
How was this?
Well, I am often misunderstood. the same way as I misunderstand others probably most of the time. Not really badly, it can just happen that one presumes something that is not necessarily the case. So, in dramatic terms dance can also be misinterpreted, a manly gesture can be defiance, it can be feigned aggression and so on. I wanted to build in a way of showing that everything has the potential in life of not being exactly the way the clichés dictate. The same aspects I have applied to the music. I am a modern composer in that I live in the world today, in modern times. I am classically trained and all of these tags and keywords that are attached to me and my CV even dictate a preconception sometimes, in the same way the characters in the plot can. Modern and accessible music is a possible combination but the latter is not normally presumed alongside the former.
How is the piece stylistically then?
I have written the music to be accessible. I find it pretty pointless to use a musical vocabulary that alienates a majority of the audience. What do I want to do with this? Entertain and make something that is understood, not baffle and confuse. The work has hints of operetta and hints of modernity but is mainly good danceable rhythmic complexity with lyrical themes and textures and takes advantage of what an orchestra can do very well. It is written really for this dance project and not as a concert piece, although the ubiquitous suite may well end up being extracted. The instrumentation is for single wind instruments and some additional percussion and piano and as full a string section as can be afforded. I am aware of some of the financial constraints with live orchestras so have not overdone the usage of resources.
What criteria are you trying to fulfil?
I really wanted to do it, so I did it (with some encouragement from others). Not, probably, a very wise financial decision as things are generally the other way around; "choreographer approaches and adopts composer/composition" and not "composer approaches choreographer". But, this has given me time to do something in a non-hurried scenario whereas most commissions are a hectic back-and-forth with those concerned.
Have you written for dance before?
Yes, on several occasions but not for orchestra. My first was I think in 1986 for a production in Cambridge England with the European Contemporary Arts Ensemble, this was electronics, tape and three live french horns actually. I was commissioned by the Landestheater in Innsbruck for a dance piece a while back as well as a piece called Winter for a dance theatre in Frankfurt.
What about getting it performed?
It will be difficult but I think well worth the challenge. The naming of the piece has been oddly an issue. "Rich Bitch" is not exactly palatable as a name in all quarters although I think I am allowed some artistic license and make jokes generally about naming my next pieces "Sad Bastards" and "Shit Happens". I am not making a comment about anyone in particular or casting aspersions on the female gender. It is like a quotation out of a script, nothing more. This is why the piece has two other alternative titles. I am really hoping to find a choreographer with a bit of courage and trust and also a budget, the last of these is generally the point where things start to not happen. I trust though that something will eventually emerge to take advantage of this resource! Maybe even a dance production purely for broadcast, who knows at the moment. We should be making a recording of some excerpts fairly soon to make any decisions easier, it is indeed very difficult to render orchestral scores well electronically and I really don't see the point in changing the way that one writes for orchestral instruments in order to take advantage of the shortcomings of computerised ones.
Any other interests?
Actually one thing that I am very interested in is combining the arts with technological platforms now. I have been involved with surround sound technology for over 20 years. We used this for presenting music in corporate shows. Also, making video material in 3D for the past 3 years. This project is really designed not only for the stage but as a basis for producing hopefully a first production for the emerging 3D market for home entertainment. I've been involved with this for a while now and it is quite exciting to see how this technology can add literally another dimension to the appreciation of movement when not seen on a live stage. There is really a new future for dance here as well as musical productions. We shall see.