During the first rehearsal with Pretty Ugly, the quartet for Bach’s ‘The Art of Fugue’ was seated to the side of the stage on designer chairs in the shape of a cross: Cello opposite first violin and viola opposite second violin. Despite the curves of our bodies and instruments this was a hard shape that was closed to the dance. Four fixed minds developed from the angular form, and over the course of the four hours we became isolated from and impermeable to the flow.
The next day we were in the dance studio on swivel chairs. Though still in the designer cross, each time one or two of us was not playing, we swivelled round to check out the dance, creating an opening in the unit.
Amanda Miller is well known as a choreographer, having been at Frankfurt ballet for many years. She started this company ten years ago and, as we watched her teach, we discovered that behind the girlish voice and the doggy bags under the eyes, we were in the presence of a master. Her movements create a unique language; a sort of Buddhist telling of ‘The Red Shoes’ set in Harlem, and, as she flows in through the gaps in our cross, we are mesmerised.
“Think of your backs! Never turn your back on anything or anybody. Even when I turn, like this…..” – she turns her back on the quartet – “ my energy is still moving through my back towards the musicians. It’s called humility.”
She shows us a page of diagrams. These are the shapes that the sound frequencies make in sand and this is her design for the shapes she is making in the Fugue. Our violist adds that it has been proven that the frequencies of words like ‘om’ create the shapes of their Sanskrit characters in sand. Our feet are beginning to twitch and we want to dance too.
“Imagine you are moving in sand. Create the shapes with your feet”
Leaving the studio rehearsal I cannot resist doing a little pirouette of my own as I cross the space. We beg to have the dancing chairs in place of the designer ones. The designer is consulted and says no so in the afternoon we return, downhearted, to our cross on stage .
Amanda is talking about the rehearsal process. From our prison we hear her voice: “It’s not about repetition, it’s about growing.”. I want to be part of this so I talk to the designer myself.
“Of course you should sit in a horseshoe. That is exactly what I want. I don’t know why we thought that quartets sat in crosses.”
By the day of the performance we have entered into a mandala together.
This was apparently Bach’s last work and it is, like our new shape, open, unfinished, always growing. We cry out Bach’s signature – translated from the German B.A.C.H into B flat, A, C, B natural, and the at the abrupt unfinished cadence movement keeps spiralling in the silence.