The following article appeared in the March/April 2017 edition of The Music Times. While the byline in the paper is my name, the article was written by both myself and Rae Crossman.
“The same man can not step into the same river twice.” This idea, attributed to Heraclitus, serves as the epigraph for the interdisciplinary performance work River Flow: Confluence of Music, Words and Dance that will be premiered in Cambridge on April 1, 2017 at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts. What is a river? Where does it begin? Does it end? These questions and more have been explored by the writer Rae Crossman, choreographer Michele Hopkins and myself, composer Owen Bloomfield with the generous support of a Waterloo Region Arts Fund grant and the Cambridge Centre for the Arts.
The image and symbol of a river permeate every aspect of the human condition. Writers and artists have used it since ideas were first recorded. It courses through our lives both the same and different all at once. It rages and slows. It nourishes life and takes it away. Human existence has relied upon rivers for physical, spiritual and economical sustenance. Living in the watershed of a Canadian Heritage Waterway, and the ongoing controversies about water resource management, we felt the time was right for an exploration of this kind.
While we originally conceived the piece as an expression of the fluid dynamics of a river, we soon recognized that there were biological, social, and political currents that needed to be voiced as well. As residents of this watershed, we were particularly conscious of the early presence of indigenous people in the region. In addition, we were aware of the political situation with respect to land grants and claims along the river. While River Flow is not specifically about the Grand River and its contentious history, the piece does address differing cultural perspectives in relation to attitudes towards nature and the course of life along rivers shaped by politics.
We have created an aural and visual experience through words, music, and dance movements that will invite the audience to consider their relationship to rivers and the surrounding natural landscape.
Step into the river
Feel the current flow around you
Quickening the senses
Buoying the spirit
Lifts and carries you
Sweeps you away
River in the blood
Collaborative work by its nature can be both challenging and rewarding. River Flow is a true collaborative work with completely original text, music and choreography. Creative ideas were generated together as a group. Sometimes the text inspired the dance, then an idea for dance inspired the music. “I have often worked with composers, but this has been my first experience working collaboratively with a choreographer,” states Rae Crossman. “The tri-part creative process has generated ideas that may never have surfaced had we been working independently. This is what we had hoped for, of course, and we’re pleased that the process has been both productive and collegial.” For myself, as a composer, this is the first time I have written music to text still being produced. The typical process of composing with text is to work from words that have already been set down, often as a poem existing in its own form, separate from music. In this case the text was being produced while I was composing. A large outline was created by three of us. Rae would write a section and forward it on to me and I would begin composing the music. I would bring a sample to the group and receive feedback and adjustments would be made. These conversations would be greatly inspirational and influence later sections mostly due to the element of Michele’s ideas for choreography. She had to wait for us to finish before she could begin choreography in earnest. That being said, her visions of how a scene could be realized were inspirational to how my creative process has worked. This process of free-sharing of ideas has produced a piece that is still changing as it goes into rehearsal and production. How it will end is still to be determined. This has been a dynamic and extremely fruitful partnership. Creativity in flux, as Heraclitus might observe.
The music and speaking parts will be performed by the group SlanT, comprised of Marion Samuel-Stevens, soprano, Tilly Kooyman, bass clarinet, Owen Bloomfield, piano, and Rae Crossman, actor/speaker. SlanT’s interdisciplinary productions blend chamber music, opera, music theatre and performance art. We have previously mounted Tilt! an interdisciplinary work created by myself and Yukon writer and artist Lawrie Crawford. In addition, the group has performed Peter Skogaard’s Songs of Skywoman in collaboration with the Good Hearted Women. For River Flow, SlanT will be joined on stage by two professional dancers and dance students between the ages of nine and nineteen from Michele Hopkin’s Acadamie Ballet Classique. This youthful element is very exciting and we hope that the children involved will be able to take away with them a unique artistic experience and the messages of conservation, humanity and timelessness that are at the core of the work.
River Flow will be performed on April 1, 2017 in the Toyota Room at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts, Dickson Street, Cambridge. Shows at 1pm and 3:30pm. There will be a question and answer session with the creators following each show. Tickets $20 adult $15 children, cash only.
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