This autumn Chantry Dance tour Nicholas Maw’s Ghost Dances (1988) as part of a matter of time, choreographed by Kristian Cunningham. Their UK tour begins on September 15 at the Guildhall in Grantham - Maw’s birthplace - before travelling to Lowestoft, Worcester, Halifax, Stamford, Northampton, Taunton, and Altrincham.
Watch the trailer for a matter of time here. Kristian Cunningham uses Maw’s 27-minute score to take audiences on a journey through past, present, and future that explores memory and consciousness through contemporary dance and puppetry. The New Yorker described the piece’s potential as a dance work following its premiere, noting “the work does not need choreography – being itself a ballet, “danced” by sounds – but would offer a wonderful challenge to a choreographer able to hear and complement its imagery”.
Ghost Dances uses the same forces as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, minus the singer. It shares its uncanny, uneasy mood. The piece additionally incorporates a heterogenous selection of folk instruments that includes African thumb piano, American strumstick (a one-stringed banjo somewhat like a mandolin), flexatone, kazoo, and manjeeras (a kind of finger-cymbal).
Just as Pierrot Lunaire refracts the traditions of German art song, Maw summons the ghosts of historical dance forms across its 13 movements, whose moods range through the naïve, the nostalgic, and the macabre. The nine dances sometimes evoke traditional forms – ‘Pas de Deux’, ‘Lullaby’, ‘Bacchanale’ – while others paint more overtly disconcerting pictures: ‘The Demon’, ‘The Ballerina Overwhelmed’, ‘The Frozen Moment’, ‘La Kermesse’. They are punctuated by two interludes, whose material is derived from the opening Intrada, and concluded with an Epilogue.
Ghost Dances was first performed by the Da Capo Ensemble at Merlin Hall, New York in May 1988. It received its UK premiere from the Nash Ensemble and Lionel Friend at the Almeida Festival in June of the same year. It was recorded by the 20th Century Consort and Christopher Kendall in 1997.