Dance and Music seamlessly intertwined – Goldberg Variations at the Barbican:
By the time I heard the Goldberg Variations I was already in my teens and fancied myself as something of a music scholar. Legend has it that the variations were composed to sooth the sleepless nights of Count Kaiserling. Whether that is true or not, the variations are remarkable – 30 in total, all worked on the same bass-line and with every third variation a canon.
The seminal recording I heard was by Glenn Gould who performs the piece at breakneck speed on the harpsichord. That is one way to emphasise and enhance the structure of the work without destroying the beauty and intricacy. Last night’s fusion of contemporary dance and music, with the variations performed on 11 stringed instruments, is another.
It’s the kind of performance that could so easily have seemed stilted and unnatural. The musicians and dancers perform as one – musicians at times putting their instruments to one side to join the dancers who, without in any way distracting from the piece, use their feet, hands and voices to interject.
Apparently, what drew both Jonathan Morton, director of the Scottish Ensemble and Orjan Andersson, the choreographer and director of the dance ensemble to this work, was that is it also one of the most interpreted. There are many theories about the structure of the work – that it deliberately mirrors the ascent of the nine spheres of Ptolemaic cosmology, that it is a coded rebuke to a critic who had snubbed the composer. Whatever the truth, the work does seem to invite interpretation. By choreographing musicians along with the dancers, the audience has the singular experience of musician and dancer performing as one, transforming the notes and our perception of them.
The performance runs for just over an hour without an interval. There’s not a moment that feels unnecessary and who would want to sleep when there’s the opportunity to watch the ensemble – the remarkable trio of Jonathon Morton, Cheryl Crockett and Clio Gould supplemented by a further eight musicians and a dance ensemble of just five.
The production is quirky and lively at times, stunningly beautiful at others. The music harmonious. Although the piece was composed originally for the harpsichord, Sitkovetsky’s arrangement seems entirely appropriate. Written in 1985 to celebrate Bach’s 300 year anniversary, the timbres and textures of strings allow the counterpoint to speak more clearly.
My only disappointment was the ending – beautiful but somehow unbalanced. Perhaps that was intentional – to leave the audience looking for more.
There are two more performances at the Barbican on 6th and 7th July at 7.45pm
For more information and to book check the Barbican website