Pontus Lidberg © Nir Arieli
Pontus Lidberg
© Nir Arieli
You’ve worked with contemporary composers, and had their scores commissioned specifically, for your work.

How did you approach these collaborations? Does the music come first, serving as a base/frame for your work? Is there a back and forth relationship between music and dance, as the piece takes shape?

(PL) Well, each creation is different. Some pieces really spring from the collaboration between me and a composer. With Warriors (2010) for example, the idea behind the commission was to create a work together with B Tommy Anderson, and our collaboration really was the impetus of the piece. I had ideas about the dance, its theme, its structure, its dramaturgy…  and the music was written fully to these specifications. After initial research and discussions, I received sketches to which I started choreographing, and then adjustments were made during the choreographic process. Warriors grew organically from its inception right up to the première, with music and dance evolving in dialogue. With David Lang (who created the music for the film Labyrinth Within – 2011, and subsequent stage performance Within, for Morphoses, in 2012) things were much less fixed. Similarly, I heard musical material before I started, but this was more like broad brush strokes. I had a clear idea of what the finished work would be, and I knew the music, but I didn’t choreograph strictly to it, setting this step here and that step there. Rather, the final choreographic editing happened at the end. The music corresponded to the screenplay, and in that sense, it was already a match. In editing, I made small adjustments in the music (cuts) and I could do that with David’s music. I wouldn’t say it’s repetitive... because it’s very varied; but it stays within a theme. Whereas B Tommy Anderson’s composition, for Warriors, was very particular; it had details that could not be cut. If  I had wanted to edit, there were only a few places I could have done so.

Does commissioned music give you more freedom, as a choreographer?

Yes! I find this subject of (new) music for dance very interesting. I‘m not making a statement here, although it might be perceived as such; this is more something I’ve been thinking about: Why would an artist choose another artwork as a foundation for their own artwork? There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but when you decide to work with existing compositions, already existing scores, you’re essentially creating an artwork upon another artwork. Whereas when you commission a score, it's (hopefully) growing organically, or at least in dialogue with what you yourself are trying to create with the dance; the music actually corresponds to the particular ideas of the choreography. There is a breadth of existing musical compositions that might be both inspiring and perfectly fitting to whatever it is you are about to create. But ultimately, you’re not in dialogue. So yes! I think it’s very relevant to work with contemporary composers, although I love all sorts of music. There are many artforms that can inform your work as a choreographer. However, I think it is important to acknowledge that in using existing music, you are in fact using an already existing artwork to inform yours, rather than the music being created in conjunction with your own work.

David Lang is popular with choreographers, and much in demand for dance. What in your opinion makes his music malleable, and so well suited?

I should really only speak for myself, and from my own experience… One of the reasons why it suits my dances so well is because, while it’s definitely not ambient music - not a soundscape - it’s not dominating. It doesn’t have obliging details and form, or features that cannot be ignored, and therefore dominate the creation. David’s music for dance gives you the space to do just that, to dance. But I guess that’s also my own interpretation as a choreographer. I consider certain things differently now, than I did 15 years ago, and music is an element I certainly have a different approach to. Back then I would always treat the music with a great degree of respect; meaning: if the melody was one thing then my choreography would be that same thing. Whereas now I might go in a very different direction than the music. Sometimes there are encounters between the two, and they are aligned, but not necessarily all the time. David’s music is well suited to this approach, because it’s possible to have the music and the dance in dialogue, but not necessarily locked into each other, or set. They are more like co-existing layers that enrich each other. I think choreographers sometimes look for a simple layer of sound that corresponds to whatever ambience, or mood they are interested in. Now of course David’s music is not that. It’s a lot more sophisticated, and richer than just a soundscape. 

You have worked with both contemporary compositions, and with existing works of earlier composers. Do you think contemporary music is establishing its own identity?

This is a very good question. But I don’t know how to answer it in a meaningful way… My perception is that music is a much larger arena than dance is, or has ever been. Comparatively, they're on different scales. I can only talk of the contemporary music that I am drawn to and work with, but that’s not representative of contemporary music at large, it’s only a slice of it. But I can identify what I look for, and what inspires me. I, of course, search for music that resonates with the themes I’m considering with each specific work. But there are certain elements that I think are important and essential for my dances, whether for stage or film. I look for tenderness, and sensitivity… I’m interested in the human experience and music has the capacity of making us feel things. In fact, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman said in an interview something I find rather special: “Words are used to hide reality, whereas music is a much more reliable tool for communication.” I think this presents an idea that really resonates with me. Words can complicate matters, whereas music can speak directly to a lot of people, as can dance, and physical language.

Pontus’ next upcoming performance is also set to a commissioned score,  for strings and electronics,  It will première on October 18th , at the Fall for Dance Festival, in New York City, featuring Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside of ABT.

The following month, Pontus' creation for the Royal Swedish Ballet, Raymonda, will première on November 28th. The score is by Alexander Glazunov. Pontus explains: “I think it’s interesting to mention this, since we’re talking of contemporary music versus older music. I thought that the original libretto for 'Raymonda' ( I am re-imagining the ballet, not just making another version of the original ballet) is very problematic, so I created a new libretto, which sublimates parts of the original one – the parts that I thought were interesting  and relevant. The order of the original score thus didn’t correspond to my version… I took the pruning sheers and reordered the music. There is nothing new about it, but the order has been changed, and I cut about a third of the score. The music is not original, but the sequence of the score has been ordered differently… and I feel it works beautifully. If you didn’t know the original score, you wouldn’t hear or sense a reordering at all.

About Pontus Lidberg

Swedish filmmaker, choreographer, and dancer Pontus Lidberg, is internationally recognized for his award winning dance films 'The Rain' (2007) and Labyrinth Within (2011). As a choreographer for the stage, Mr. Lidberg has created over 40 works for major international dance companies including Semperoper Ballet Dresden (2013), Le Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève (2012), The Royal Danish Ballet (2010), The Beijing Dance Theatre (2009), The Norwegian National Ballet (2005), The Royal Swedish Ballet (2012, 2014), Morphoses (2008, 2010, 2012), Oregon Ballet Theatre (2013), as well as for his own concert group Pontus Lidberg Dance, which made its New York debut with 'Faune' at the 2011 Fall For Dance Festival. Mr. Lidberg was recently nominated for a Bessie Award in Outstanding Visual Design for his dance and film evening 'WITHIN', created during his 2012 tenure as Resident Artistic Director of Morphoses. He received a 2012-2013 Choreography Fellowship from New York City Center. His re-imagined full length production of 'Raymonda' for the Royal Swedish Ballet will première in Stockholm on November 28, 2014. Mr. Lidberg holds an MFA in Contemporary Performative Arts from the University of Gothenburg, Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts.