Les Liaisons Dangereuses (2005)

Duration: 100’
Dance work in 2 acts for flute, clarinet/ sax, strings and keyboards, with additional pre-recorded track
Directed and Choreographed by Adam Cooper
Designer: Lez Brotherston
Lighting Design: Paule Constable
Sound Design: Andy Pink and Philip Feeney
Originally created on Adam Cooper, Sarah Wildor and Sarah Barron
First performed at the Yopoto Kan-I Hoken Hall, Tokyo in January 2005, conducted by Stephen Lade. Subsequently performed at Sadlers Wells Theatre, London in July 2005 by members of the London Musici, with Kanako Tajima on harpsichord, conducted by Stephen Lade.

Adam Cooper’s plan to create a ballet from Laclas’ celebrated novel began to take shape as far back as the autumn of 2000, when he and Lez Brotherston worked closely with the composer in fashioning a new score. It was postponed because other things came up, but was re-awoken in the autumn of 2004 with a Japanese television company (TBS) producing it. All but fifteen minutes of the score had already been written; indeed, there is a point half way through the section appropriately called the Risveglio (the re-awakening) where the score was picked up after a four year lay-off. Hopefully the joins are not noticeable!

The small cast of principals and the small nine piece orchestra might suggest that this is a chamber ballet, but the scope of the concept, in particular Brotherston’s fabulously opulent designs, is anything but. The addition of live electronics in the pit contributed greatly to the dimension of the music. With a mic on every instrument, and a direct line from the sampler (the Yamaha A3000), the ultimate audio level in the theatre always belied the small forces, and was controlled by the mixing desk, superbly operated by Isaac Blazquez. Funnily enough, considering its provenance, trying to source the sampler for the production period in Tokyo proved to be quite tricky.

It had been in Cooper’s mind from the outset that Valmont’s aunt should be played by a singer – he was attracted by the different sort of movement quality that an opera singer might bring to the stage. In this way the ballet is periodically transformed into an opera, especially for the set piece aria at the beginning of Act 2, in praise of the purity of love, which of course is heavily ironic, and merely serves to highlight the intrigues and manoeuvrings of all the characters engaged in watching the recital. The part was memorably created by Marilyn Cutts, well known from her days with the vocal group, Fascinating Aida.

While the musical language of the work is fundamentally based upon a Baroque musical vernacular, the existence of all kinds of modern and postmodern elements make it very much a score of today. The presence of the saxophone helps this of course, as do all the extra percussion and sound effects, including a knife being sharpened and a guillotine sound! These all emanate from the Yamaha A3000 and quite simply permeate the score. In fact, we are dealing here with a musical style where anachronism and inauthenticity are fully and boldly embraced. Indeed, one of the singing coaches brought in to work on the vocal part remarked that a certain musical interval would not have been written in the baroque era, which is of course precisely the point.

Consequently the pervasive harpsichord sound is intentional digital. The instrument had to be a clavinova, partly because the sound is recognizably 18th century while at the same time entirely contemporary, but also because at certain points it has to transform into a piano and, indeed, a celeste. We were enormously fortunate to engage the brilliant Japanese pianist, Kanako Tajima, not only for the performances in Japan, but also for the subsequent London season. So much is the clavinova at the heart of the piece that there are literally almost no rests in Act 2 for the player. It was perhaps inevitable that the composer would be asked to endorse the clavinova by the Yamaha executive in Tokyo, something he was more than happy to do!