Updated: Mar 23
Keith McEwing | 15 March 2021
Chamber Music New Zealand has boldly incorporated a theatre element into their national tour, Transfigured Night, by commissioning leading ballet choreographer Loughlan Prior to choreograph the entire programme. The New Zealand String Quartet—Helene Pohl, Monique Lapins (violins), Gillian Ansell (viola) and Rolf Gjelsten (cello)—joined by Serenity Thurlow (viola) and Ken Ichinose (cello) play music by Antonin Dvořák, Arnold Schoenberg and New Zealander Tabea Squire. Dancing we have Laura Saxon Jones, William Fitzgerald and Tabitha Dombroski, members of BalletCollective Aotearoa.
The merits of choreographing concert music have long been argued. Does the dance add or detract from the music? The answer—as for any artistic endeavour—is subjective, but with careful selection of music and considered choreography the sum can be greater than that of its parts. And this is certainly the case here.
The programmatic Verklärte Nacht by Schoenberg and the Slavic folk dance tunes used by Dvořák in String Sextet in A minor (Op 48) both lend themselves to dance performance. Equally, the NZSQ are no strangers to accompanying dance and have often been willing participants in movement theatre programmes. From their sequential arrivals on stage from different parts of the concert hall to kicks and chasings about the stage, playing all the while, the musicians earn their position centre stage. Gjelsten’s skill combining chasing and cello playing is especially noteworthy.
The concert is in two contrasting halves: the first half of the concert programme is light and playful, the second sombre.
In the first half, Saxon Jones enters silently, looking in wonder at the music on each stand. Then one by one the musicians enter playing, along with the other two dancers. (It’s an interesting juxtaposition to have a dancer looking at a score while musicians play from memory!).