Art Creation and Collaboration

John Dryden

As a double major in English literature and music, two different arts, one of my interests is artistic collaboration. For instance, one of my recent research projects for my music history class was the collaboration between John Dryden and Henry Purcell during the Restoration era in England. One of them was the former Poet Laureate of England, and the other was one of the greatest English composers England has ever known. Together they produced one of the greatest semi-operas or masques of the time, King Arthur. Sometimes what you would find is that one art would vie for superiority. Dryden scholar James Anderson Winn wrote in “When Beauty Fires the Blood”: Love and the Arts in the Age of Dryden that this can turn out to be a complicated thing. A writer wants his words to stand out and is afraid that the composer will put his words clumsily into a setting that will distort the meaning and render it crude. A composer is interested in the setting, and has the difficulty of producing a setting that is melodious and pleasing to the ears, and sacrifices may have to be made to the poetic text to make this possible. What I found was that both music and words built on one another rather than one being superior over the other. Dryden’s poetics, already superior to any other librettist Purcell worked with, were enhanced by Purcell’s setting, and Purcell’s setting moved the drama forward by his very appropriate and evocative settings. It was a testament both of the power of words and music to move people.

With this in mind, I’m excited about the upcoming collaboration the State Ballet of Rhode Island is having for their spring show. For the first time in years, the spring premiere will feature a collaboration between a choreographer and a composer. Composer and Rhode Island College graduate Christy Isles is composing a six-movement score alongside State Ballet of RI’s resident choreographer Mia Godbout. The ballet will be called “SAFARI,” an acronym for the different countries the music and dance travels to (Spain, America, France, Russia, and Ireland, not in that particular order). The ballet and score will be premiered with live musicians at the spring show May 11 and 12. This is a complex move — first there is the matter of composing a score that is interesting for the audience to listen to, along with the matter of having something that is danceable. For a ballet, you don’t want the music to overshadow the dancers, and you don’t want the dancers’ movements to be disconnected from the music. It all has to blend seamlessly in a way that highlights both arts. It’s hard enough to compose music on its own, what with picking the correct harmonic language and instrumentation that will properly evoke the countries it’s supposed to evoke. Composing for a group of dancers, even a small one, is  quite a feat. It’s also hard enough choreographing a ballet to music that’s already been written. And then there’s rehearsing with the live musicians, and all the other logistics involved in making a successful premiere.

Visual art also plays a part in this premiere. Maya Tavares of Bristol Looms will be weaving a series of tapestries inspired by the different movements of Christy Isles’s score, and these will be featured in the gallery next to the auditorium. I friended her on Facebook, and she’s been posting pictures about her own artistic process — a separate blog post for another day! I heard just yesterday that we also are going to be collaborating with a metal sculptor, also a RIC graduate.

SBRI’s recent move into various collaborations with different art forms has been very successful so far. Last spring, they gave Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” a new twist by holding an art exhibit in the gallery next door to the performance. Established artists, students, and young children were invited to contribute a piece of art inspired by the ballet and the musical score. The array of different media that was involved was staggering, and it was an ultimately successful performance. (You can see my “review” of the performance here.) Recently, Mia Godbout collaborated with writer David Ira Rottenberg in choreographing a ballet based on his children’s book Gwendolyn the Graceful Pig, and they have participated together to present this ballet along with his narration/book reading at various events, including literacy programs.

It’s been very exciting to see the ballet and the music form into something cohesive and moving. I feel privileged that as SBRI’s communications intern, I’m in a great position to see what’s happening, and I feel fortunate to be involved with this, even indirectly. More blog posts upcoming!

For SBRI’s own take on the artistic process, please check out the blog posts on our Facebook page!

Click here for ticket and time information to our shows!

2 Responses to “Art Creation and Collaboration”
  1. I, as executive director of SBRI, at times are most fortunate to find individuals that are very much like myself. We have many sincere feeling in common about the arts. It is our passion and desire to create, present and preserve. With in us, there is a force like no other, that drives us forward with artistic ideas giving us a life of excitement, challenges and value. These individuals that have come my way, I call “Angels”. Abby is one of them.
    With Gratitude,

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] and I don’t have the music yet, and I don’t want to sight read this performance. (See a blog post I wrote about them here.) It will be an exciting experience, that’s for sure. And how exciting to be communications […]

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