ElvisCostello.com, April 22, 2008

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Elvis Costello

I spent a week in Miami at the end of March. It was the first time that I had been in that city for more than a day or two. It's quite the place.

Much of my time, through the summer and autumn of '07, was taken up writing and orchestrating Nightspot, a collaboration with the choreographer, Twyla Tharp for the Miami City Ballet.

Now that the piece was in rehearsal, I finally got to hear, what had previously been going around in my head, played by real musicians.

The score calls for a ten-piece dance band, performing at the back of stage, while the dancers enter a swinging nightspot. A modest-sized orchestra plays in the pit. They combine at times into one big ensemble while at other moments they play in dialogue.

When enquiring about songs, people often ask, "When comes first? Words or music?" I suppose a similar question might be asked about ballet music only with regard to movement and music.

Ms. Tharp's method was to listen to a number of my existing songs and then ask me to write something new that departed from one or other station,

Although the writing doesn't have a verse-chorus structure and music is played continuously, none of the individual cues are very much longer than the average song. Once I had some knowledge of Twyla's intentions for the dance, I could proceed.

I made an early decision to make passing reference to some of those existing songs; a handful of changes here, a melody completely re-harmonized there or a background motif, brought to fore and fastened to an entirely new rhythm and melody.

Words and ideas attached these fleeting musical fragments plotted a line through the score while I was writing it, though it isn't necessary for anyone in the audience to recognize or follow them in order to understand or enjoy Nightspot.

Nightspot portrays many forms of nightlife and a series of couples as they go through various temptations, flirtations, betrayals and transformations. There was plenty of opportunity for waltzes, a Spanish guitar ballad, some satirical striptease music, a little ragtime tune, a cockeyed tango or two and a show business hymn.

On three occasions in the score, I used processed loops to augment the on-stage rhythm section. This was the first time I'd employed this sound since the album, When I Was Cruel.

In fact the "dummy" name of one cue was actually "When I Was Cruel No. 5," as it was a more expansive version of the ideas contained in the song of that name, "No. 2."

There is no immediate plan to record the score in the studio but it is not entirely impossible to imagine a performance of the entire 38-minute work being recorded for DVD, some time in the future. That way you would be able take in the entire scene as it was intended.

The dancers of the Miami City Ballet are a wonder to behold at work. Even physical preparations that they undertake in order to begin to dance would kill a small stable of horses. I am no expert on dance technique but to my eye they gave a wonderful performance of the material.

The premiere was a fairly swish affair. People were dressed up to the nines and really raised the roof at end of the night.

The performance went without any obvious catastrophes, but even as you are taking your bow and accepting bouquets, the mind is bound to stray to changes that occur, now that the music been heard in the heat of battle.

I will make a number of small but crucial revisions in time for the Los Angeles performances in October 2008.

Miami City Ballet could not have been more gracious hosts but for most of the time I was in their city, there seemed to be a 700ft. motorbike approaching from several streets away. This turned out to be the low, dull rumble of an electronic music festival that was dominating the aural and social landscape.

I suspect that a few of the company left the post-show gala to dance the night away in an actual nightspot but I shall not pretend that I was among their number.


ElvisCostello.com, April 22, 2008

Elvis writes about collaborating with Twyla Tharp on her ballet Nightspot.


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