Songs Without Words 14
Songs Without Words 14

Studio trials 14

One of the challenges of SWW 14 was to commit with confidence to a work based in contemporary technique, specifically the one I was trained in by Peter Boneham.  And to find compelling and satisfying expressive departures, leaving certain ones to extemporary explorations and others to pre-crafted choreographed phrases.   I remember early in the process knowing with certainty that this work was to end with a grand plier, but how to get there effectively?

These videos show the evolution of a movement idea that I referred to as ‘port de bras’.  As I explore shifting directions through the legs I also bring focus to arm expressions with spinal echoes compressed in a restricted space.  The movement idea and the musical relationship to the score become progressively clearer.  The second and third explorations unfold with the same music, while the first much less focused exploration happens at a later point in the score. The structure and feel of the material are tied to the score, although the exact movements are improvised in the performance of the dance.


Listening for significant section changes in Atmosphères helped me to understand how I could shape the dance material, and where to line up with the score and where to work in contrast to it.  A strong boom sound at 4’14 was an unavoidable shift that the music imposed on me.

These three short videos show the evolution of the movement strategy to address the 4’14 boom in Ligeti’s piece.   I could not discern an underlying pulse that would have helped me to determine when the boom would happen.  The dance material immediately preceding the boom had to have some tension, the feeling of building, being on the edge of control.  The first video shows a repetitive approach, jumping on the spot, the second shows material that is too controlled.  The third video shows one strategy – I just might get it exactly and can make a direct shift pausing briefly in opening of the next material.   The full video posted on this site shows another strategy – I remain in the previous material until I hear the boom then change without pausing, moving quickly through the opening shifts of the next material.  I brought an extreme heightened attention to the uncertainty of this significant moment.


As soon as I had committed to this movement vocabulary I recognized that I was dancing through shapes and qualities that were part of my formation as a dancer with Peter Boneham, Artistic Director of Le Groupe de la Place Royale, and later of Le Groupe Dance Lab.  The creation of the work and the experience of performing it draw unreservedly from my beginnings.  

What came to mind in the first viewing of the draft SWW #14 was “the dance is all there”. There were some nuance and qualitative ideas to further explore and accentuate; movement sections to be refined and further integrated with the musical score- however, the overall intention and concept of the work felt complete. As discussed with the choreographer/ performer, the viewer recognizes a certain “technical approach and familiarity” to the movement vocabulary- yet, through the physicality and the qualitative decisions of the performer, the “technicality” becomes morphed, transformed, “emptied of all its’ associations”. As an example: there is a movement section where arms are held in certain positions of port-de- bras, with legs active- and over a short duration- the viewer witnesses the arms morph into the shapeless weight of gravity, an “emptying” of the familiar. Throughout the work there is a sense of the predictable becoming unpredictable. Another example: the legs moving into retire or ronde jambe, while the upper body works in contrast with spine and torso flexing off-centre.  As rehearsal director, I enjoyed assisting the performer to further pull out those divergent qualities. Throughout this process, I was reminded of the intrigue and beauty in the abstract form, as well as the power that a clear and intentional concept can have in drawing the viewer so deeply into the work.

Helen Husak, Rehearsal Director

Costume comment by Davida

The costume designer for SWW, Angela Dale, was unfortunately not able to work with me on SWW 14, 16 or 17.  I pulled from my costume closet a red long sleeve T, red bodysuit, and red voile wide leg trousers.  This ensemble was good for the dance in that it showed the body and legs well and was easy to move in, particularly for deep hip flexes and squats.  But when I rehearsed in the red Lighting Designer Steve Isom commented that the saturated colour popped too much considering the earthy quality of the musical score.   I then switched to a rose top and grey pants that allowed the same movement comfort but didn’t pop, yet neither did this solution offer anything to the piece.  So, I kept looking and discovered a discount store long sleeve top and pants both in a very light stretchy net that was easy to move in, showed the body, had colour and texture but did not pop.  Perfect! Lesson learned – do not settle – keep looking!

The music very much told me to light this piece in a visible place, an “Atmosphere” I filled the stage with haze and then used different colours from different directions and angles to enhance the costume colours and put the movement into an abstract, dimensional environment. I had to continually increase the volume of haze so the camera could pick up the swirling in the air. I think it looked better live. The camera lost some of the depth and ambience that Davida was moving through.

Steve Isom


Robert Bringhurst

Robert Bringhurst - Poet, Typographer, Author

Kelly Krueger

Kelly Krueger - Visual Artist

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sign up to receive our email newsletter

SWW #14

Atmosphères (1961) – Grygory Ligeti- Finish Radio Symphony Orchestra `


 0 – mass

 ’48 – 1’10. – diminuendo 



1’08 , 1’17, 1’23  – new mass slow crescendos



1’34 –  2’08 – Forte new mass with shift, crescendo I

2’08 – 2’18 – Forte new mass with a few shifts, crescendo II

2’19 – 2’29  – shimmering stasis, quieter crescendo III



2’30 – quieting down spacious, high glassy tremolos

2’53 – 3’13 trumpet wavering w other horns wavering diminishing volume



3’13 – single tone dominates shifting and rising

3’31 – tremolos begins rising in tone, fewer voices, crescendo

4’01 – single voice high sustained



4’14 – Boom, dark, sustained 4’40 backing off, 4’50 light glassy sounds

5’01 – building from underneath, strings, horns, alternating foreground background crescendo (5’26) abrupt stop

5’27 – 5’34 very quiet 

5’34 – slow crescendo, horns coming forward – continues under following

6’07 – 6’29 single horn repeats over mass – 8, 9 times, then shift

6’35 – 7’26 horn dominant quietish diminuendo



7’25 – whistling followed by waves

7’40 – like gentle laughter interrupted by bright shooting gestures

7’58 – 8’20 play of bright gleaming sustain, strings rising underneath

8’20 – 8’52 String patterns short phrases repeated varied


8’52 – 9’15 forte, dark boom, not as loud and more tenor that 4’15

9’16 – drop out – rush of air with sparse distant, cavernous, rumbles

9’26 – Air rush drops out – rumbles diminish

9’58- sound dies 

Sign up for updates