By Rehana Browne (performer)
At the very start of the rehearsal process, Sir Harrison Birtwistle (composer) told us that no individual performer should “specialise” in a particular skill and so we are all in a constant state of flux; playing instruments, singing, dancing and acting to create the inter-dependent musical and dramatic elements which give Bow Down its unique cubist feel.
As a classically trained instrumentalist, it has been exciting to explore other methods of communication and I have also found it fascinating to learn about the connection between Bow Down and Japanese Noh theatre and Medieval music.
The way in which we approach the score, which was put together after the premiere in 1977, is unusual as it is to be used only as a starting point. The notation is unconventional; arrows indicate styles of breathing, progression from one section to another is based on either musical or physical cues and mobile repeats and three line staves introduce an improvisatory aspect. The blurring of the distinction between actor and musician is clear in directions such as “instrumental scream” and the way in which the music often reflects the spoken text.
Harrison’s music has been compared to work by the artist Paul Klee, who described his method as “taking a line for a walk”. I feel that this perfectly describes the rehearsal process so far as we have taken short melodic ideas, physical gestures, pulses and fragments of text and experimented with them to see what is created as a result.
Harrison told us that “if you do something right, everything is right. If you do something wrong, everything is wrong. You can do anything as long as you can justify it.” The responsibility of each performer as an individual as well as one of a group entity is something that I have found inspiring and liberating as well as challenging as we have needed to find freedom within the clear cyclic and forward directional structures prescribed by the score.
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Our latest blog posts:
On the origins of Bow Down
Meet the cast of Bow Down
Mana Shibata: On meeting Sir Harrison Birtwistle…
Bow Down: behind the scenes video
Finding my rythm in Bow Down
Rehearsing Bow Down: an atypical process
Bow Down: a special kind of fairy tale
Beyond the story: the set and locations of Bow Down
Bow Down performance spaces
Bow Down in pictures