Soundscapes and Collages from Momo (2010)

Created for Bern Ballet to music by Dmitri Shostakovitch
Choreographed by Didy Veldman
Designs by Becs Andrews
First performed at the Stadttheater, Bern, conducted by Dorian Keilhack and the Berner Symphonieorchester
Created on Hui-Chen Tsai (Momo), Denis Puzanov (Gigi) and Erick Guillard (Beppo and Meister Hora).

Didy Veldman had long wanted to create a full length ballet on the beautiful story of Momo by Michael Ende. In fact Philip Feeney’s first collaboration with her, Greymatter for Rambert Dance Company in 1997, was based on the same story. So when asked by the artistic director of Bern Ballet, Cathy Marston, for a full-length narrative ballet, she chose to revisit the book. For her score she elected to use the music of Shostakovitch, working closely with Philip Feeney and conductor, Dorian Keilhack, to fashion a score out of a variety the composer’s vivid incidental music for stage and film, including music from the Ballet and Jazz Suites, as well as the more gritty movements from his chamber symphonies.

Together with the Shostakovitch, Veldman needed audio soundscapes that could dovetail and complement the symphonic music, in order to create the atmosphere of a busy city or alternatively a sense of space and air. In this way, the contrast between the purity of spirit of Momo and the sinister character of the grey men, intent on trying to steal time, could be emphasised. The fact that the work begins with sound rather than with the live orchestra suggests that the soundscapes and collages amount to much more than merely filling the empty space between orchestral numbers.

Care was taken to integrate the soundscapes within the overall score. At points they blend seamlessly into the next section by anticipating its music, for example the introduction of the waltz from the Jazz Suite is anticipated by the 3/4 rhythm that becomes apparent in the soundscape. Most notably the snare drum opening of the Drayman’s Dance from the Shotakovitch ballet, The Bolt, is clearly foreshadowed in the soundscape rendering the link into the orchestra entirely seamless. In the same soundscape there are echoes of previous music embedded into the collage, particularly effective in the fragments of piano that hang in the air as a memory of the carnival music that accompanied the grey men and the dolls.

With time being so central to the narrative of Momo, Feeney created two substantial ticking collages for the journey into the magical kingdom of the watchmaker, Master Hora. The first is more of a straightforward ticking gesture, but the second is a complex texture of overlaid superimposed clock noises, containing ticking of differing tempi and sound quality, which helps to build up the tension as the grey men close in on time. The funny thing was that not only had the composer just finished work on Peter Pan for Milwaukee Ballet, with its crocodile ticking, but for his very next collaboration, Scenes from a Wedding, the choreographer, Chris Marney, asked for a ticking sequence in order to create a neutral space for the bedroom argument.

Part of Feeney’s contribution to the success of this apparently ad hoc compilation score included several transcriptions of Shostakovitch pieces, and a flamboyant and hilarious orchestration of a short piece for piano with four hands, The Chase, from Korzinkina’s Adventures, op. 59, no. 3, that in this production memorably depicts a busy day at the barbers.

photos courtesy of Bern Ballet