Running until tomorrow, The Barbican Centre presents Goldberg Variations – ternary patterns for insomnia choreographed by Örjan Andersson, under the musical direction of Jonathan Morton with music and performance by the Scottish Ensemble. Dancers Jozsef Forro, Eve Ganneau, Paul Pui Wo Lee, Csongor Szabo, Danielle de Vries activate the space and perform in tandem with the musicians in a very innovative manner. And what an entrance with variation one!
This incredible show demonstrates that classical musicians can also be performers; suddenly the old-fashioned idea that orchestras can only perform in the underneath space of the theatre – without receiving the same praises as the performers on the main stage – becomes totally obsolete. The synergies and connection between the music and the movements are fantastic.
When the Artistic Directors of both companies, Jonathan Morton and Orjan Andersson, met for the first time in London, they knew immediately that they wanted to take the piece a step further: rather than have musicians only performing the music, they took the ambitious decision to choreograph musicians and dancers as one.
Each variation explores new elements of movement and body expression. Using the music almost as the script, the piece covers the full spectrum of body possibilities. Elements of grotesque, darkness and love are expressed in the variation of situations proposed by the performers.
The show is a tour de force which oscillates between ballet and contemporary performance with elements of comedy, poetry, cross-dressing and absurd theater. The ghost of Pina Bausch isn’t far in this stunning interpretation of J.S. Bach masterpiece where musicians and performers work as one.
Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with its myriad textures, moods and forms, provided the rich musical material that is the basis of the collaboration. Published in 1741 as an aria and set of 30 variations for harpsichord, the piece remains today one of the most well-known and most celebrated pieces ever written – praised in 1802 by Bach’s first biographer Nicolas Forkel as “the model according to which all variations should be made”, and widely considered to sum up the entire history of the Baroque variation, in the way that Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations does for the Classical era.
Written in 1985 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth, Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s orchestral and trio arrangements of the keyboard piece swiftly became known in their own right as lauded additions to the string repertoire, sensitively drawing on the timbres and textures of strings to bring something new to the music. As such, the choice to explore this work – and reinvent it yet again with the addition of contemporary dance choreography – was an exciting and natural fit for Scottish Ensemble in their desire to champion the string repertoire.
The piece also touches grotesque, darkness and love and audiences end up both laughing and crying. It was highly praised in Scotland, Washington DC and Shanghai, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to see it in London.