Text by Evan McKie 

Let Me Share With You My Favorite Musical Pieces That I Enjoy Dancing And Listening To.

6th. Issue
Serial Report from Stuttgart by Evan McKie
(Principal at The Stuttgart Ballet)

Hello dear readers-- I am thankful for your response to the January question/answer entry. I am glad you enjoyed the glimpse inside my dance-life in Stuttgart, Canada and recently Japan.  I will do a follow-up sometime in the springtime if there is time so if you'd like, I invite you to send your questions to Chacott Dance Cube NOW for that. One question I refrained from answering was about my favorite musical pieces that I enjoy dancing to. This is such a difficult question to answer for any dancer I believe. There is such a large variety of excellent music in the world…some truly genius in it's composition. As a classical ballet dancer, I am accustomed to classical music with the exception of some contemporary pieces used by choreographers creating pieces on the company. I am touched by the beauty of most of the music I get to dance to, infact music was the main reason why I started dancing as a child and is truly my biggest motivation everyday…Even when I stop dancing one day, music will still always be one of the most important necessities in my day-to-day life; I am sure of that.

I wracked my brain to try to narrow down some of my most magical musical experiences on the stage so far. It is difficult to do…the list could go on and on and I may change my mind when a piece of music I have forgotten worms it's way back into my mind and body again. But at the moment I am writing this I am able to offer a few particularly brilliant compositions that can take me to another place onstage. Here are my picks for classical pieces…

evan1302_01.jpg Photo: Stuttgart Ballet.

Britten's Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge  and Sinfonia da Requiem.

Though Ashton, Tharp and Petit all used one of Bejamin Britten's earliest works, the Bridge Variations for their own pieces, the only time I have danced to the score is in the somewhat sombre yet often dynamic Hans Van Manen piece aptly titled ''Frank Bridge Variations.'' I love how Van Manen used some of the simple waltz and march rhythms in the piece to show the dynamic between the man and the woman. There are a few great climaxes and also some beautiful sustained notes that you think cannot go on any longer and like many Britten pieces, there is a pulse that drives the whole composition forward towards its finale. Each segment is meant to reflect a side of Britten's teacher, Frank Bridge's, personality. My favorite are the marches and adagio moments. There is a heavy tone but the piece ends on a very harmonious and lyrical note that doesn't shock or excite the listener but instead just seems to make such quiet and complete sense. The ballet is an ensemble piece for 10 dancers but Van Manen chooses to have the last scene dances by only one man and one woman. It's heavy, adult, tender and bold. I loved embodying the ''question and answer style'' of pas de deux that displays the essence of close human relationships so well. Sometimes it's an echoed movement by the partner, two steps forward and three steps back as a couple or even just a long glance into each others eyes…Van Manen's steps are so powerful to dance to with Britten's incredibly moving score.

Jiri Kylian's ''Forgotten Land'' is another piece where I really feel the music is able to touch each and every dancer in the cast in a way that not every composition can. Once the piece starts, it sweeps you along with it like a strong, often violent wind (there is no break!) but similarly to Frank Bridge variations, it also ends on a very quiet and peaceful note rather than with a bang. Sinfonia da Requiem actually has a history that involves Japan (it is very interesting if you choose to research it..) but the reason I love it is because of its unbelievable strength as a symphony. People say that Britten was very influenced by Ravel and Stravinsky and in this piece I notice that some of the melodies are wild and unrestrained; particularly some chords on flute, trombones and  piano. There are many different moods in the piece and Kylian uses this to highlight different dancers and their styles. Kylian's choreography eats up space and is also very unrestrained. There is also a march in this piece and I enjoyed being with all of the cast onstage as the curtain comes up and the march starts to set the tone of the piece. The dancers all start to move slowly but the movements become bigger and bigger and I had the feeling we were like a big pot of water that had been put on the stove to come to a boil. This piece was created for Stuttgart Ballet in 1981 and has since been danced by other lucky dancers all over the world. I like every single second of this composition, to listen to and to dance to.

Faure's Requiem in D minor

Kenneth MacMillan used this choral-orchestral composition for his tribute to John Cranko. The ballet is still danced in Stuttgart and London today. The piece is a requiem so it's obviously dealing with life and death but this particular work is lighter and offers a different interpretation of Faith. There are seven movements and MacMillan was very literal in his choreographic translation. However, the biblical references and characters were mirrored by some of the strong characters in the company that Cranko had founded at the time. I danced a role created for Richard Cragun that is set to the 'offertory' section of the Requiem and is lead by the strong voice of a baritone singer. It is one of my most memorable moments onstage dancing MacMillan's choreography to the sound of the baritone's voice and feeling the undeniable essence and strength of the Stuttgart company and it's history with the same faith one might have while listening to the same piece in a Church. If you do not know this piece of music I urge you to listen to it.

evan1302_02.jpg Photo: Ulrich Beuttenmueller.

Hindemith The four Temperaments.

Balanchine himself said ''Dancing is music made visible,'' and I agree whole-heartedly. Balanchine's genius for making this happen is legendary. This piece of music AND this ballet are on my top ten list of practically perfect moments to watch, dance or even just day-dream about. The music was made for the ballet in 1940 and I love how full of contrasts it is. Based on the ancient 'four humors' theory, Balanchine lays the ballet out like an open score. I particularly love the unusual harmonies and how vivid the strings sound each time one listens. There is a kind of urgency to the music but instead of agitating me it almost calms me because it seems to make perfect sense. I don't ever get bored of listening to this one and I believe it is ever-unique. 

Brahms Piano concerto N° 2

This is a large, robust concerto that would make anyone want to dance! Cranko used this piece of music to create an extraordinary ensemble work that celebrated the strength of Stuttgart's biggest stars of the era. In fact, the ballet is called ''Initials RBME'' which signify Ricky (Cragun), Birgit (Keil), Marcia (Haydee) and Egon (Madsen). Though the whole 4-movement concerto is generally happy and but also reminds me of a roller coaster making loops; Listening to the second movement almost gives me butterflies in my stomach! It is, however, the third movement that I love the most. There is a cello solo that I got the chance to dance to and apparently it is unusual to find such a cello solo smack in the middle of a piano concerto. I am thankful for the cello…It calls out to which the piano then softly answers. It is a beautiful pas de deux for a man and woman that the corps de ballet and orchestra come in and out of like a storm which then subsides. A very mesmerizing piece of music and ballet.

Chopin Pianoconcerto No.1 Romance-Larghetto

John Neumeier's ''Kameliendame'' is full of well-known and exquisite Chopin works but it is this larghetto that repeats in the ballet when Manon and Des Grieux face Marguerite and Armand through different periods of their stories. I always loved this piece of music but in this case, Neumeier has used the work so brilliantly that it is impossible to detach the feelings of the ballet's main characters from Chopin's notes even if I try. If you know the ballet and you listen to this larghetto on youTube, I can imagine that you will sympathize with me.

Tchaikovsky (almost) Everything!

No surprise here! Tchaikovsky provided us dancers with some of our individual favorite moments and roles onstage. Though the intense use of repetition in some of works mean that you may not want to listen to the same work every single day for your whole life, there is such a large variety of different pieces to choose from or dance to that it is always a great pleasure to re-visit one's favorite pieces time and time again.

There are so many more pieces I'd love to discuss (and I haven't even begun with late-twentieth century compositions yet…) but this will have to suffice for now. I would love to know YOUR favorite pieces too!

Hug and kiss-

Evan McKie

Evan McKie is a Principal Dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet and a resident guest artist with the National Ballet of Canada. He has performed with the Paris Opera Ballet, The Tokyo Ballet, Ballet de Santiago de Chile and Universal Ballet in Seoul.
McKie is Canadian and was born in Toronto in 1983. He has been nominated for Dance Europe Magazine's 'critics choice' list many times over the past ten years and is also the recipient of the ApuliArte Prize for artistic achievement.
McKie is also a visual artist and a part-time writer. He is an honorary advisory board member at Dance Magazine, US.
Evan is thrilled to be a spokesperson for the Chacott brand.

Twitter http://twitter.com/EVANMcKIE
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WEB Site http://www.evanmckie.com/
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