To the Abyss and Back (1991)

Duration: 15’
For solo piano
Choreographer: Chris Carter
First performed at the Lilian Bayliss Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London in July 1991, and revived in 1992. It was first performed as a concert piece by Richard Herriott (piano) in August 1993.

Since he began collaborating with contemporary dance in 1980 in Italy, Philip Feeney had been used to inventing music for demonstration classes in the Martha Graham technique. The overriding compositional task was to create music that accurately fitted the exercises that go up to make a contemporary class; often this could be at the expense of musical logic, something that he was increasingly determined not to let happen. Over the years he had created many a score for such performance classes, in particular for iconic teachers such as Elsa Piperno in Rome and Jane Dudley at London Contemporary Dance School. To the Abyss and Back was the one of the last and certainly the finest of these, with musical elements being of paramount importance resulting in a convincing musical structure and compelling energy.

It was composed for the Central School Show in 1991, and was successfully revived the following year. It is the only class demonstration to be notated, at the request of the superb concert pianist, Richard Herriott, who, excited by its drive and quasi-rock dynamism, took it into his repertoire, opting to use it as a competition piece as well as a recital piece.

To enhance one of the sudden outbursts in the music, Feeney experimented with adding the sampled recording of a large tamtam for the revival in Sadler’s Wells, 1992. In the afternoon dress rehearsal the effect was distinctly underwhelming, so he adjusted the volume up accordingly. Unbeknownst to him, the sound designer, Ian Gibson, had also pumped up the level, resulting in such an enormous explosion in the evening performance that it seemed to everybody that the Shakespeare’s Head had been blown up!