SYNOPSES 'Jazz Colours' and 'Magnolia
Suite' are a pair of complementary, linked ballets composed
for either small orchestra or brass quintet. ‘Jazz Colours’, featuring
one jazz soloist [performance time 23 minutes], concerns itself
with the story of the roots and origins of jazz. It is set to
a continuous score and falls naturally into 8 musical episodes.
‘Magnolia Suite’ [18 minutes] is a celebration of the various
styles which existed in the days of early jazz and is a collection
of 6 classic jazz titles of the vintage years of the period, including
works by Scott Joplin, Tom Turpin, Bix Beiderbecke and other early
These stylistically authentic, almost classical works, reflect
a period from the 1890's through to around 1930. They include
some little known works of the era including a very rare ragtime
waltz by Joplin and an exquisite ‘art deco’ setting of Beiderbecke’s
‘In a Mist’. The ballets are set in the sultry, sub tropical climate
of New Orleans in the early years of the 20th century and can
be realised with virtually any number of dancers so long as they
are paired. This flexibility in size makes the works ideal for
all types of company, whether professional or amateur. In the
same genre as Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s ‘Elite Syncopations’, but
also exploring blues, gospel, parade and Mardi Gras music, ‘Jazz
Colours’ and ‘Magnolia Suite’ are a new, delightful and uniquely
atmospheric addition to the dance repertoire.
1 - ARCHETYPES
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powerful, monolithic dissonant chords represent ancient roots,
perhaps even race memory. The chords are statues to an earlier
culture, African in origin, around which our dancers will create
images of African ritual. Though the ingredients of these musical
blocks are African, later, in linear form they will become the
musical scale of the early blues. We hear a pre-echo of this blues
style as the music transports us into:-
2 - WORKSONG
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'Worksong' leading to 'Spiritual
Message' 72 second MP3 sample (B5t) - LGBE (572k).
brought the African to America. Tribal culture was cruelly and
cynically destroyed. The white missionary gave some solace and
the promise of a new God. He also introduced his music which the
African used in his own inimitable way. This work song was first
heard in about 1830 on the River Mississippi. Our dancers create
an atmosphere using the rhythm of the oars to symbolise the work
boat passing slowly by, rowed by slaves, with the Christian tune
repeating and repeating over the never ending pulse of enforced
labour. The mood becomes softer, taking us to:-
EPISODE 3 - SPIRITUAL MESSAGE
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songs and field hollers led to the blues. The white mans' hymn
book praised the new God and the European harmonies within it
influenced the early foundations of gospel singing. This slowly
swaying dance captures that essence and the blues interjections
which occur from time to time provide further evidence of the
cultural mix which is taking place. In parallel to all this, another
strand of genetic material, another ingredient, is waiting to
be added to the palate.
EPISODE 4 - SILVER BELL RAG
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stately drawing rooms of the affluent white rich echoed, in the
1850's, to the music of European dances such as the polka, the
quadrille and the schottische. In the hands of the black musicians
of New Orleans, these tunes were subjected to the process of 'ragging
it'. A similar treatment was given to European military marches
and a new form of music developed. Ragtime. With its own ethnic
composers, Scott Joplin and Tom Turpin amongst them, and utilising
European structures and harmonies, ragtime became a style which
to this day occupies a corner all to itself in the history of
jazz. In 'Silver Bell Rag' our dancers evoke the magical, vulnerable
charm of this most elegant of jazz traditions. Instead of the
polka, we have the cake walk. Replacing the schottische, the slow
drag two step. A new and different dance tradition evolved, which
in the twenties, was to capture the hearts of millions all around
the world. But there is no light without a shadow and in our ballet
the happy peal of 'Silver Bell Rag' finally becomes a more reflective
toll as it leads to the Delta and:-
5 - BLUES EVOLUTION
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blues, they were always there', is a quote from a New Orleans
musician in about 1920. And so they are in 'Jazz Colours'. The
chords in our opening 'Archetypes' contain the notes of the blues
scale. The work songs, the field hollers, the slave trade, the
African call and response, all spawned the blues. For the blues
represent a collective unconscious, dealing as they do with sadness,
loneliness, oppression, broken relationships, despair and even
death. But the blues are also gracious, dignified, and beautiful
and in the expression of that beauty there is a shared, if temporary,
relief from suffering. Everybody understands the blues. Our dancers
portray these universal human emotions as the solo jazz musician
explores the world of the blues. And then, life goes on, with
EPISODE 6 - PARADE
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a New Orleans funeral, it was traditional to accompany the cortege
to the cemetery with slow, wailing music. After the burial, the
cornet would sound a few notes and the marching band would parade
back to a double-time march, expressing the power of life over
death. Our dancers are part of the parade, joyously transforming
the misery of death into the vitality of life. And life demands
a celebration - especially on Mardi Gras day. . . . .
EPISODE 7 - CELEBRATION
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dancers hear the cacophony as the bands gather from all over the
city of New Orleans, warming up their instruments for the day's
celebrations. It is a carnival of colour, New Orleans at its most
extrovert and brash. When that tailgate trombone roars into a
fast stomp, he can practically raise the dead and make them dance.
This is breathless, exhilarating abandonment, the stuff of ecstasy.
It goes on all day, all night, until the music and the dancers
tumble in gratified exhaustion and the colour changes again to
the quiet, reflective shade of:-
EPISODE 8 - THANKSGIVING
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Before sleep, there is time for our dancers to recall the peace
of 'Spiritual Message'. After the excitement, there is calm in
this gentle, caressing gospel rhythm. It is soothing, mothering,
womb-like. As the gentle, soft, fragmented chords signal the end
of the ballet we leave our dancers in sleep. After all, New Orleans
is 'The Land of Dreams'.