The genesis of Susan Hadley's new work, Evening Air, lies in a work called Lullaby that she created in 1986. The work was an eleven minute duet for two women that began with one dancer cradled by the other who was rocking her. During the course of the dance the two exchange places and the smaller (younger) dancer finally cradles the other. It was danced to the music of Bradley Sowash (synthesizer and recorder) and featured Ms. Hadley herself singing. It was a work that she wanted to expand into a full ballet with more dancers. In Evening Air the second section is derived from the same imagery as Lullaby. It is the cornerstone of the work, although the choreography differs.
It has been interesting for Ms. Hadley to see the work materialize, and to some extent take on a life of its own, being in a different time, and given that the dancers performing the work will influence the final look. For her it was important to cast the right person in each role. Having worked with BalletMet many times in the past and thus knowing most of the dancers well, it was important for her to use Tracy Thayer as the central figure. She felt Tracy would bring a strong sense to the role, and she choreographed movement to showcase Tracy's individual talents that are not typically featured in the ballet repertoire. The other dancer who is featured in the cornerstone section is Sonia Welker. Again Ms. Hadley chose her not only for her talent, but also for what she would personally bring to her work.
Evening Air addresses the cycle of a lifetime during which significant people accumulate and relationships alter. Ms. Hadley is very intrigued by structure in her choreography, and in Evening Air she underscores the life cycle aspect of the work by reintroducing themes or structures. For instance the first section features a solo dancer on the floor performing movements somewhat embryonic in nature. These moves, seen again in the eighth section, are adapted to being performed standing, thus portraying a more mature stage of life and of the ballet. The first moves also are the basis of the final section. The eighth section is also reflective of the fourth section where the parental figures are always there to support the children. In this section an extended family of friends offer each other support.
The rocking motif of the second section returns in the sixth section when a new life enters the world. This motif also returns in the second to last section when the protagonist is reaching the end of her life's cycle.
Reflective of the life cycle theme, Ms. Hadley has focused on many circular motions, both on each individual body and also in the architecture of the dance. In section three we see the parental figures circling the stage with their child. Later in the ninth section the group is again circling, but now we see the central figure choosing to go in the opposite direction.
Each choreographer brings a different set of challenges to the dancers. The movement in Evening Air challenges the dancers in ways different from classical dance. "It is pared down. There is no adornment," explains Ms. Hadley. This is often a large challenge to dancers who are used to projecting a larger than life character to an audience.
When working under the time constraints of a professional dance company "there is no time to ditz around and create in the studio." Ms. Hadley prepared at home by developing clear ideas of structure and intent for each section. Before entering the studio she had a strong spatial sense of what the piece would look like. However, all the movements were developed on the dancers, inspired by the program she had worked out ahead of time.
When Susan Hadley set about selecting music for her new work for BalletMet she was under the impression that her dance would be a part of an evening long celebration of the centenary of Aaron Copland's birth. The entire evening did not materialize as planned, but Ms. Hadley had already been drawn to Copland's lesser known piano solos which range in style from the melodic to the atonal. "These pieces interested me because they are a different sound than his larger orchestral works. There is an intimacy to these pieces," she states. "Copland was exploring an economy of means. I wanted my choreography to be a reflection of the spare and simple beauty of the music." The ballet is set to eleven piano solos written over the course of Copland's lifetime, and can therefore be seen to parallel the life cycle that is the basis of Ms. Hadley's work. The music ranges from his early jazz influenced pieces, some "Americana" sounding works and some atonal, modernist style compositions.
The choice and order of the compositions are solely Ms. Hadley's. Having listened to a lot of music, she organized it into a program that would support the episodes she had in mind for the dance. The title Evening Air is derived from one of Copland's compositions, In Evening Air.
The opportunity to use live music was also a terrific opportunity. The pianist is not hidden but is seen on stage before the dancers. Ms. Hadley views this not only as a tribute to Copland and the musicians to whose work we dance, but also as a reminder that music is created by humans. Composer and pianist Bradley Sowash, with whom Ms. Hadley has collaborated frequently for 15 years, and to whom she is married, is the pianist for the Evening Air performances.
Whenever music is performed the question of freedom of interpretation always arises. This is especially the case for a performer who is to accompany a dance. While seeking their own interpretation of the work they must not only take into account the composers wishes, but also those of the choreographer as they pertain to tempo and phrasing. The dance is often first conceived to existing recordings where a musician has already made some individual choices that may not be those of the live musician. The recordings of Copland's music sound as if the pianist were improvising, so it was revealing for Mr. Sowash to discover the details that Copland had placed in the score. Every variation from strict tempo is intricately detailed with specific rests and even multiple changes in meter from bar to bar. From his student days Mr. Sowash has been a fan of Copland's music. This opportunity to play his work, accompanying Ms. Hadley's choreography, is especially exciting to him.
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The Music in Evening Air
Until Stravinsky made it known that he composed at the piano, "serious" composers had nearly always composed at a desk. Most of Copland's major compositions began life at the piano. Copland once said "Ideas come from my head, but I need a piano to work at, as a writer would need a typewriter. Composers like myself were awfully relieved when Stravinsky boasted that he always wrote at the piano. Suddenly, we were respectable." The composer Virgil Thomson believed that Copland wrote "his most expressive music for the keyboard."
In Evening Air was written in 1966 and revised in 1972. The theme is taken from Copland's film score for The Cummington Story and features a sequence almost identical to one in Midday Thoughts.
Midday Thoughts was completed in 1982 and was one of Copland's last two compositions. It is based on the abandoned sketches of the 1944 Ballade for Piano and Orchestra. The composer describes the work as a "brief lyric piece very much in the manner of Appalachian Spring."
Three Moods (1920-21) was composed in America before Copland left for studies in France. However, the first public performance was given in Paris at his graduation from the Fontainebleau school of Nadia Boulanger. Copland hoped that the third section, which is the only one Ms. Hadley uses, would "make the old professors sit up and take notice."
Petit Portrait was written in 1921 just before Copland's twenty-first birthday and was originally meant to be a supplement to the Three Moods.
Sentimental Melody dates from 1926 and was fashioned out of material discarded from Copland's Piano Concerto (as was a section of Four Piano Blues). Copland made a piano-roll recording of this work in 1927.
Four Piano Blues had its first performance in New York in 1950 but was assembled to honor pianists who had performed Copland's Piano Sonata No. 1: No. 1 to Leo Smit (who also premiered this work); No.2 to Andor Foldes; No.3 to William Kapell; and No. 4 to John Kirkpatrick.
Phillip Ramey, program editor of the New York Philharmonic, discovered Midsummer Nocturne in a file in 1977. It was the only complete section of a suite of piano pieces, perhaps intended for children, from 1947.
Down a Country Lane was written in 1962 as the result of a commission from Life magazine. Copland explained that the music "is descriptive only in an imaginative, not a literal sense. I didn't think up the title until the piece was finished - Down a Country Lane just happened to fit its flowing quality." He orchestrated this piece in 1965.
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Bradley Sowash writes and plays melodic and upbeat contemporary piano music as well as new versions of songs people recognize. An accomplished composer, critically-acclaimed recording artist, and solo piano entertainer known for his instant audience rapport, Sowash's concerts have delighted listeners throughout Europe and the United States for over 15 years.
Bradley Sowash grew up in a musical family in Mansfield, Ohio. In fact, his trumpet playing father met his singer mother while performing together in a big band and all of his siblings have been professional musicians. After earning a music degree from Ohio State University, Bradley moved to New York City and continued his studies with jazz piano legend Joanne Brackeen (of Art Blakey, Stan Getz) . His first major engagement was as keyboardist for ECM singer and composer Meredith Monk. His compositions for contemporary dance companies and videographers produced glowing reviews in the Village Voice and New York Times. He also performed concerts of original music with vibist Ted Piltzecker (of George Shearing), and toured original solo piano concerts to colleges in several states. Bradley spent the 1988-89 season in Europe with jazz performances in Brussels, Paris, London and Chamonix. He is featured in John Schaefer's book, New Sounds: A Listener's Guide to New Music and in Katherine Teck's Movement to Music.
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