Mbulelo Ndabeni & Rambert Dance Co. 2012

Mbulelo Ndabeni approached me to write music for a new choreography piece that would be shown as part of the ‘Season for New Choreography’ for 4  dancer/choreographers of the Rambert Dance Company (31 May 2012).


4 pieces would be crafted and shown at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, by four of the dancers currently in the company. In addition, we were able to write scores using 7 – 10 members of the Rambert Orchestra.

Dancer/choreographer and Composer duos were:

Mbulelo Ndabeni & myself

Dane Hurst & Chris Mayo

Patricia Okenwa & Mark Bowden

Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon & Miguel Marin

We were initially all invited to take part in a workshop by Matteo Fargion, whose piece ‘Songbook’ for four dancers blew me away when i first saw it touring with Rotar by Siobhan Davies Dance @theWhitworth Gallery in Manchester. That piece has enamoured me ever since. So I was looking forward to it.


He gave us various number games which offered subtle changes in direction and rhythm. Combine the list of numbers with (everyday) physical gestures and create a simple choreographed piece. It was really useful material. We did further rhythm games and spent the whole day thinking up small pieces to perform.

In that workshop, we also met a host of student composers, two of whom I have kept in touch with – Samantha Fernandez and Hannah Kendall.

The whole 4-5 months of prep consisted of sorting out free time that both me and Mbulelo could make, and then to go back and forth with videos, chats and ideas.

The one thing that really held from the beginning was hearing Mbulelo say three tongue-twisters from Swahili which all used a different click sound. They had a real rhythmic and sonic texture that I loved and I ended up using these at the beginning and the end of the piece to signify a finish, and worked with the clicks in the middle electronic parts. These tongue-twisters were really wise sayings, and guide you to step away from moments that need you to be calm and clear in your thoughts. With these South African wisdoms, the piece brought in a concept/thema that was developed into the final piece.

Musically, the piece was going to be part acoustic using the orchestra, and part fixed electronics. I wanted to free up rigid musical structures and to allow some breathing space for the dancers to delve into, and to throw up gestural sounds that allowed you to somehow improvise or to feel like improvising. The challenge was really finding the shape/structure of both music and the choreography and how that would merge seamlessly, interchanging roles – with one leading the other, vice versa and both.


Mbulelo Ndabeni in Face Up by Rambert Dance Company. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

    Mbulelo worked with only one dancer Miguel Altunaga.

So it was, writing for the orchestra; recording, composing and developing the electronics side and producing it to master levels; writing strict notes and re-scoring for orchestral players to bring out certain sounds and emotions; recording different versions for the dancers to rehearse too etc..  Plus, a couple of rehearsals with the orchestra – all being new things for me, and certainly eye-opening to how necessary the players wanted total instructions in their scores. They scoured it and demanded clarity, amongst the very frustrating element of a single loud obnoxious member who influenced others to behave badly. The Brass and the strings were awesome however. In any case, it was enlightening. The players in the end did not want to hear the electronics part, and some  presented an impossibility of allowing the music to flow the way you wanted it, through time constraints, and restrictions to the written score that cut off all imagined possiblities. I applaud all the musicians who tried really hard to make it sound good, and offered many great suggestions and encouragements.

At the QEH itself, the soundcheck went fine, quick but fine. The soundguy/engineer ended up tipping the balance between the electronics and acoustic parts – electronics were too loud, and i could not tell whether the acoustics could be heard as I was at the top of the Hall in the booth, syncing the separate electronic parts to points in the choreography. It ended well however.

Mbulelo now directs his own company: N’da Dance Company



http://www.rambert.org.uk/explore/news-and-blog/blog/season-of-new-choreography-2012/  Mark Bowden was also Composer in residency at Rambert.

http://writingaboutdance.com/tag/rambert-dance-company/ by Nicholas Minns