Reviewed: Spirals of Ragtime and Ragaat St Peter's Church, Drogheda and Novaat The Space, Helix
Spirals of Ragtime and Raga at St Peter's Church, Drogheda
There is no other work of musical minimalism from the 1960s which is as celebrated as Terry Riley's In C. Riley is many things to many listeners, so much so, that it would be easy to think of him as working in the uncomfortable category of musical crossover. The impression from the Spirals of Ragtime and Raga concerts, presented by Louth Contemporary Music Society at Drogheda Arts Festival, is, however, rather more of a wholehearted musical omnivore than of someone who's engaged in the kind of toe-dipping that plagues a lot of crossover efforts.
In C delivered the modular repetition that was to become the trademark of minimalism, though it did it in a free- flowing, performer-controlled way that still sets it apart from the bulk of minimalist music. Riley's other great hit of the 1960s, A Rainbow in Curved Air, is a one-man-band creation of protracted effervescence.
Both pieces work as magnifying glasses in the treatment of their material and this ensures that, while the area covered may be small, the exploration is thorough. And this seemed to be the characteristic of the mini-festival.
Each concert opened with solos, moved on to duos with the composer's guitarist son, Gyan, and then on to ensemble pieces. Riley himself played piano and synthesizer, and sang. It's the singing which stood out most, reflecting the composer's deep immersion in Indian music, the timbre smoky and rough, the rhythmic agility intriguingly sharp, and the small shifts from familiar intonation taking the performance a whole world away from the norms of Western music. And yet, as different numbers showed, the vocal shift from the Indian sub-continent to the world of bluesman could be achieved with almost magician-like aplomb.
The musical omnivorousness allows Riley to work with often rather neutral-sounding material, and the thoroughness sometimes encourages him to look again when everything has already been seen. Yet the piano/guitar duos are conceived in a way that allows the listener to take a lot for granted in the way this most unlikely of combinations can actually be made to gel. The duo's star turn was undoubtedly Turning; short, intricate, quietly dazzling.
The saxophone quartet Chanting the Light of Foresight took its inspiration from the Táin Bó Cuailgne, whose very existence provided the spark to bring Riley to Drogheda. Switzerland's Arte Quartett offered two movements from it which were like an immersion in multi-layered saxophoneness, from the seductively svelte to sheets of rawish tone, from lightly bluesy bends, to hard, funky honking. There was nothing to do but yield to the invitation.
Dublin's Crash Ensemble went into over- amplified mode for the new piece that was written for them, the colourfully-titled Loops for Ancient-Giant-Nude-Hairy- Warriors Racing Down the Slopes of Battle. The writing here encompasses the almost passive and the punchily percussive, a venture into orientalism and a section of descending loops which almost seem to drip with entropy. Sadly, the amplification seemed to present the players with such difficulties in hearing each other that ensemble, blend and intonation often suffered. Happily, the group showed more restraint for the closing performance of In C. Riley provided the pulsing background at the start, and although he never allowed it to become a constant feature, it was at all times clear that he was the reference point, encouraging the kind of intense listening - from both performers and audience - which is the core point of this seminal piece. Michael Dervan
Nova at The Space, Helix
"Technology affects our bodies and minds, and the way we portray art and the way we view it. How can dance make sense in these parameters?" asks choreographer Mariam Ribon's What If . . . ! The answer lay succinctly in the other works in Core Dance Company's premiere performance, Nova. It lay in the spatial harmony of bodies in Musica Mundana, in a slow arabesque over a prostrate body in Ashes, or in the strong identity-affirming gestures within chaos in Passing By. And these answers were amplified by the spartan lack of technology in the theatre - minimal lighting in an undressed black box.
Ribon's own response was to hold up a metaphoric mirror, as the dancers' laser focus; slowly buckling torsos and vacant walks showed how we have become disengaged from our own bodies and obsessed with virtual physical extensions of mobile phone and iPod. If the vigorous performance by the young people in Core Dance Company came from strong identification with the subject matter, then the slightly lacklustre performance of Musica Mundana might have come from its less visceral premise.
Choreographer Adrienne Brown is perennially drawn to musical structures and Musica Mundana looked back to Boethius's concept of cosmic music, based on the order created from numerical relations in planetary orbits, the changing of the seasons and the elements. It was a work that appealed to the eye rather than the heart, and the seven dancers in white tunics suggested Grecian overtones as they layered movement patterns in canons and sequences. Mairead Vaughan's choreography is more influenced by Eastern philosophies than Pythagoras, and Passing By is at times meditative and at other times chaotic, but always returns to equilibrium. Here, the dancers devoured the movement tasks, allowing individual quirky movements' traits to emerge, as well as giving voice to nagging misgivings. It received the best performance of the evening and gave the clearest answer to Ribon's conundrum: the best response to technology is simply to dance.
Nova is at DanceHouse, Foley St, Dublin on May 15 and the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire on June 10 Michael Seaver