The Seven Ages of Man (1998)
For piano and pre-recorded track
Choreography and design: Michael Pink
Lighting Design: John Mackenzie
Studio recording: Alistair Wilson
First performed at the Kenneth More Theatre as part of the 1998 Ballet Central National tour.
The Seven Ages of Man would prove to be the last Feeney/Pink collaboration for Ballet Central. Created in the period leading up to the premiere of Hunchback of NotreDame for Northern Ballet Theatre, there was a certain degree of time pressure in its creation. Indeed the recording session for the Ballet Central piece only finished at 4.00 a.m. in the basement in London on the first morning of the Leeds production week, and the premiere of Hunchback preceded The Seven Ages of Man by a mere two days.
The piece runs through the seven ages of man via choreography and the spoken word, something that was very dear to Christopher Gable. Prop aids came out a big golden box on stage, which seemed to hold the kernel of existence itself. At times it was alive; at Perth, because of the raked stage, it rolled steadily downstage (and downhill) threatening to fall into the pit and flatten the composer. The box also acted as a big box television for a duet, wherein the woman (Noi Tolmer) could get no sense out of her husband because he was watching the football, a topical and much sympathised-with sentiment given that 1998 was a world cup year.
Musically there is an underlying rocking idea, albeit rarely heard as an actual berceuse or lullaby. It more often can be found rattling along between happily alternating chords. Its first incarnation was as a piece for student choreography about Solomon Grundy – of course the little skipping rope rhyme was curiously apt here too, and indeed makes an appearance in the childhood sequence. We recorded a whole bunch of Central junior dancers in the ballet studio, going on to sample them so that we could paste them into the score. Because it was a complicated sampling process we hired a, then, state of the art sampler, the S3000, only for no-one to know how it worked. Belated readings of the manual saved the day, or should I say, the night.
The score is characterised by alien elements, cheeping bird sounds and the cheering of a football crowd – and of course there are moments of silence, or of little music to allow space for the spoken word. After a beautiful circular sequence where life seems to go backwards, the death sequence was choreographed to quiet and sensitively expectant sparse live piano. Somehow its effectiveness meant that the finale, the cabaret in the skies, was unable to blow away the inevitability of human existence too easily. I mentioned to Christopher Gable that “death was a bit of a flaw in the plot”; poignantly he found this enormously funny.