dancing Shostakovich

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What sparks Ratmansky’s imagination is music. This may seem obvious, but there are plenty of choreographers who take their cues from nonmusical sources and ideas. In Shostakovich, he has an ideal partner. The composer’s sound world offers a vibrant spectrum, from cartoonish chases to crashing dissonances and swooning melodies, often spliced together with very little transition from one mood to the next. Without being programmatic, the music seems to suggest images and stories, though usually discontinuous and jumpy, or layered one on top of the other, and full of mischievous play. As the musicologist Simon Morrison told me not long ago, “The phrases are sometimes misaligned, and cut in different ways. If you listen to his music and think about silent-film technique, it’s the musical equivalent of that.” The technique of cutting and splicing—shot, countershot—is one Shostakovich picked up on early. After the Russian Revolution, the young composer earned his keep by improvising on the piano during silent movies—as did George Balanchine—and later wrote scores for modernist Soviet films such as New Babylon (1929). His music sometimes has the feel of several films spliced together, with a Tom and Jerry chase perhaps followed by a moonlit ride down the Elbe, a passionate kiss, a witch’s dance, a soccer match and a close-up of laughing faces.

more from Marina Harss at The Nation here.

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