Sunday, November 22, 2015

25.6.69 - Aussie composer & Alwin Nikolais

Undated, but possibly begun the same day as the previous letter. Consists of two aerogrammes, parts I and II. Both are handwritten.
Dear Mum, (started the same day as the previous letter) I started this off for some reason because I’d left something out and John arrived with 2 friends and I’ve forgotten what it was. (Quarter of an hour later) I’m now doing some more copying of James Robertson’s (incidentally he got the C.B.E!!!) edition of the parts of Schicchi ˗ in other words his idea of those things that are better, or different to Puccini’s! What I’d forgotten: recently, two of the students at the Centre here got me to play through some songs that they’re performing at Australia House. They’ve been composed by an Australian woman, and while, it seems to me, the actual vocal parts are quite pleasant and would make good pop songs (in fact I think she’d make a lot of money that way!) the accompaniments are absurd! Her idea to make them modern ˗ and her idea of modernity is to put quite wrong notes and harmonies all over the place which instead of making them exciting as she no doubt intends only make them difficult for the singer and make it appear that the accompanist is playing wrong chords! And yet these are to be performed. It makes me scared of ever putting anything before the public. Though I think at least that I have slightly more idea of what I want to do, and aim for that. [After all this pontificating, I fail to mention who the composer was. Disappointing!]
Know thyself is never more applicable than in the creative or entertainment business ˗ do what you can do and don’t try and be your next-door-neighbour! Jeff said this once too ˗ that everyone is given a certain talent and should know what that is and use it to its fullest extent. His father, he said, told him that no one is better than anyone else ˗ and it has certainly given Jeff plenty of confidence! Jeff is definitely the most down-to-earth tenor I’ve known, even though the fact that he is a tenor weighs a little against him (I’m very rude, I’m afraid), but he has his feet fairly firmly on the ground, and says not so much what he thinks, but what he knows ˗ Hmm, what a curious ramble this is!
(Next day.) I’ve just stood thru a performance given by the Alwin Nikolais Dance Group, at the old Sadlers Wells theatre. The music, or perhaps it should be, the sound, consisted of electronic noises, some giving quite a definitive rhythm, some seeming to do nothing but ramble. The opening piece was done by five dancers (whether the dancers were men or women throughout made no difference, except in one of the longer pieces) each holding two suction-like devices with which they performed. During the whole evening no one specifically ‘danced,’ but intertwined. The next piece had three dancers inside sack-like affairs, with no apparent opening, but made of such a material that they went slack or expanded as the person moved about inside. Then there was a solo, and then the entire group of ten tripped across the stage holding two streamers each which were attached to the side they entered from, and then performed in and around and on and under these streamers, which were again sufficiently pliable to be sat on at one stage.
[Part II]
These first four items seemed purely of an entertaining variety, but the second section of the programme consisted of a long piece entitled, Tent and which consisted of the group coming on with another of these pliable materials, this time a large circular affair which had a hole in its centre big enough for all the dancers to stand in at once. After some preliminaries, several balls with some sort of attachments about a yard below them descended and somehow picked up certain spots of the ‘tent’ so that it could be raised from the outside or the central circle. And this was done without any apparent assistance from those on stage ˗ but the attachments were strong enough to allow the dancers to play and pull at both the balls and the tent at different times. From then on the group seemed to represent humanity and the tent some sort of constantly intervening oppression which would overtake them and force them down and cause them to change or start again.
(Next day ˗ the last lot was written in the train, so that’s the reason for then handwriting being even more illegible than ever!) During the course of the dance an eternal triangle, with a man and two women, kept forming itself, but just as part of the detail of what else went on. I think it would probably need a second viewing to really get a lot more from it. The last ballet was a piece taken from an act of an apparently full-length ballet called Vaudeville and had the entire group, again, this time dressed in red and purple costumes and each with metal props consisting of a two-legged affair joined in two places, or perhaps it was three ˗ once across the top and yes, I think, twice further down, like this. [Drawing of something with two uprights and three cross pieces included.] These they used as gates, fences, doors, beds, you name it! Finally they built a house with it, which in the course of a ‘storm’ (?) blew up! All through this piece they’d suddenly stop when the music stopped, all prance (as only dancers can) to the front of the stage, and all talk at once to the audience. The whole thing was quite hysterical!
There was one girl who was ‘different’ from everyone else ˗ she took bigger skips (?) and this upset all the others quite a lot. It was a very funny and yet also a very disturbing piece, though perhaps not as much as the middle ballet had been.
I’m just now reading a book on Verdi, by a man called Frank Walker, and he has set out to clear up all the spurious facts surrounding Verdi’s life by the use of lots and lots of letters. There’s very little about his music ˗ it concentrates on the people involved. All the other biographies I’ve read have been semi-fictional and bad. This one keeps on referring to them and saying, ‘Tut, tut, tut’, ‘so and so’ always gets the facts wrong!! [This book was The Man Verdi, published 1963,by a man who’d spent his career as a talent agent. It's no longer in print, but can be downloaded here in various formats.]

Love Mike.