Grand Central (1992)

Duration 22’
For piano and pre-recorded track
Choreography: Michael Pink
Lighting Design: Sebastian Petit
Recording engineer: Ian Gibson
First performed at the Woodville Hall, Gravesend as part of the 1992 Ballet Central National tour. Subsequently revived in 1997 by the choreographer and assistant artistic director, Christopher Powney.

For a number of years it was traditional for Ballet Central programmes to finish with a one Act comedy ballet by Michael Pink. Grand Central is the third in the sequence, and the second in collaboration with Philip Feeney. It takes place in a large railway station, presumably New York, and is peopled inexplicably by famous personaggii from the movies, all with some railway connection or other. Threaded through all of this is a man constantly searching for his train and not finding it, who, with the help of two mischievous station porters, manages to miss it at the end.

Clearly the references to specific films, such as Brief Encounter or Anna Karenina, demand loving musical parodies; otherwise the score is often jazz-based, with humourous extras such as klaxons and Amtrack train horns. The railway theme is reinforced by sound effects (there is a terrific train crash that climaxes the Anna Karenina scene) and indeed goes on to become part of the music itself. In the finale the porters dance a virtuoso duet to the motoric sound of a speeding train over the tracks, together with points, passing trains (played by the trombone) and the noise of blowing steam at the end.

The composer was able to lean on his experience gained in a trad jazz band, The High Society Syncopators, while at Cambridge University, arranging the score for trumpet, clarinet/sax and trombone. In an exciting recording session in the basement of Central School of Ballet, three wonderful jazz musicians came in to record tracks onto the piano master that had been laid down prior to the recording session, adding superb improvised solos in the show-girls number, which is pure New Orleans; the finale is a little more swing a-la-Andrews Sisters, and features the sax much more. Indeed to create the sound of a sax section we had to triple track one instrument, but it still sounds convincing even though it belongs to the pre-digital 16 track one inch tape era.. For the lost little girl section (Shirley Temple) the trombone cleverly articulated “I’ve lost my mommy” with dextrous use of the wah-wah mute.

photos courtesy of Ballet Central