Sierra Oscura (1994)

Duration: 10’
For sampled keyboard guitar with Christine Jackson (cello)
Choreography: Rachel Lopez de la Nieta
Lighting and Sound Design: Ian Gibson
First performed at the Minerva, Chichester, as part of the 1994 annual Ballet Central Tour

Young dancer and choreographer, Rachel Lopez de la Nieta’s final piece for Ballet Central was a dark and brooding work, an evocation of the hidden and secretive nature of traditional rural Spain. Indeed, the score has a distinct Spanish feel to it, being built round a pathos-filled melody played on the keyboard guitar. The sample used in this piece had actually been prepared for use in Philip Feeney’s score of Northern Ballet Theatre’s Cinderella, for which Lopez de la Nieta had acted as assistant choreographer to Christopher Gable the previous year.

To the guitar is added the passionate cello playing of Christine Jackson. For the most part the writing for the cello is full and expressive, exploring both the rich soaring melodic area of the A string and the contrasting nether region of the C string, with its dark low notes and tense tremolandi.

In addition to the guitar/cello interplay, there are occasional sampled percussion sounds which help create and enhance the opaque atmosphere; a sampled high bell, for example, makes a direct reference to distant Spanish church bells.

The main exception to the overall brooding nature of this piece is a faster, more dancey section, which at times is backed by an accompanying track of rhythmic flamenco-style clapping. It proved virtually impossible to create an authentic sounding clap using the Akai S950 sampler, so we resorted to perhaps the most obvious and low-tech option, namely recording the choreographer and her sister performing a live sequence of virtuoso palmas (flamenco clapping) in the Ballet Central basement.