Old mariner sails on crest of music and dance
The Tabula Rasa Dance Company, in association with the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh, is touring Scotland with its ambitious production, The Bright-Eyed Mariner. Described as "a spectacle of dance, live music and storytelling for everyone over the age of nine", it brings to life on stage Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Claire Pencak, director and choreographer, says: "The first time I heard The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was as a child, read aloud by candlelight; a perfect setting for a supernatural story such as this one.
Although I didn't understand all the words of this very long poem, the story and the images captured my imagination.
"They still do today, and I hope that this performance will bring to life some of the vivid moments in this story in a way that will capture your imaginations too."
With a small cast of four dancers (Julian Adkins, Rodolfo Rivas Franco, Iain Mc Culloch and Charan Pradhan), three musicians (Cheryl Crockett, Anne Harper and Magnus Mehta) and a narrator (Peter Grimes), this production works hard for these vivid moments, and delivers.
Coleridge's words are left alone, and a combination of imaginative staging, lighting and choreography are used to illuminate them, taking us through the storms, the desolation of the ice, the arrival (and death) of the albatross, the dreadful heat when the ship, becalmed, is "as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean" to the darkness of the ghostly game of dice between Death and Life-in-Death.
The production is particularly strong and effective in dealing with this darker side and comes fully into its own after the death of the albatross.
The atmosphere, the shifts of mood and much of the tension come from the music, which was specially commissioned from the composer Tommy Fowler.
Described as being "among the brightest of the current healthy crop of Scottish compositional talent", Fowler has experience of working on several other collaborations with poets and storytellers and relished the challenge of this commission.
"Writing music for a collaboration like this is very demanding," he says.
"You have to write for the dancers, to let them dance; you have to let the music itself speak; you have to know when to hold back and leave the words alone.
"Co-operation is essential, as in any collaborative venture, but the most important task for me as the composer is to maintain the integrity of the music."
This is the first time he has worked with Tabula Rasa and he is full of praise for the company.
"Tabula Rasa have been tremendously positive in hiring three musicians to take on a five-week tour, especially at a time when other organisations, such as Scottish Ballet, are deciding to use more recorded music. It is much better for dancers to work with live music and it has certainly paid off artistically in this production."
Magnus Mehta, who provides the percussion, moving between many instruments and three copies of the score to provide a range of atmospheric sounds, says: "Some images from the poem, not just visual but also aural, are not immediately accessible to children. The images we provide through sound sparks their imaginations and helps their understanding."
The creation of new music gives vital scope to young musicians, as well as stimulating audiences, young or old. It is at the heart of this admirable production.