The Still Point (1986)
for piano, with live narration and vocal contributions from the dancers
Choreography: William Louther
First performed at Putney Dance Attic, by the William Louther Dance Theatre Corporation
Philip Feeney had first worked with William Louther in Rome in 1980 when the latter came as a guest teacher and choreographer to Teatrodanza di Roma, directed by Elsa Piperno and Joseph Fontano. When Feeney moved to London in 1984, he resumed his collaboration with Louther, who had begun to work on ideas inspired by the writings of T.S.Eliot, and asked Feeney to write a score for him. The piece was designed as a companion piece to Louther’s choreography, A Taste of Flight, to a sensational percussion score by John (Jhalib) Millar.
Originally composed for small chamber ensemble, the scoring for The Still Point was changed when the performance was postponed due to illness to Louther himself. In the end it was scored for solo piano, with isolated ritualistic ringing percussion, including a belltree and glass chimes. There’s no doubt that Philip Feeney returned from Rome with a predilection for what his composition teacher Franco Donatoni called “piccoli percussioni”, small but evocative (and not particularly orchestral) percussion sounds – this was helped by the existence in those days of a great percussion shop, Empire Drums, only yards from the Place, in London.
Louther was keen to keep text central to the piece, whether spoken or sung. While he himself narrated extracts from the poetry of T.S.Eliot, in particular from the Four Quartets, the dancers were required to sing, forming a gentle chorus, and quite often singing peaceful music in all kinds of extreme positions. The quiet refrain, “at the still point”, that appears in the first section sets the calm, even reverential tone to the piece, which while there are vigorous and robust points continues throughout the score. Later on, a three-part vocal round incorporates the text, “words move, music moves only in time”. At the very end of the piece, Louther brings the text right back into centre stage, by slowly moving towards the piano with the open book, as if revealing its secrets to the musician, taking words to music.
In one of the creative meetings at the choreographer’s flat, early drafts of the music generated such an overwhelming sense of quiet and peace that his cats fell contentedly asleep. Louther took this as a sign that we were on the right track!