If any art form can claim a familiarity and a relevance that crosses all boundaries of age, class, education and even culture, it may well be the fairy tale. And if there’s a form of art that suffers most from a reputation for being elitist, obscure and inaccessible, it may well be contemporary classical music. Combining the two in is Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s brand new retelling, through music, dance and physical theatre, of one of the Brothers Grimm’s darker-edged tales, that of the pint-sized riddler, Rumpelstiltskin.
Throughout its 22-year existence, BCMG has won awards for its work, as artistic director Stephen Newbould puts it, in ‘getting out there and finding new ways to encourage people over the threshold to hear stunning new music, brilliantly played’. Packaging it up with a familiar and gripping tale, as well as elements of dance and physical theatre, may well be one of those ways, not that the work of composer David Sawer necessarily needs those other elements to open it up to a wider audience. ‘He writes wonderfully vibrant, rhythmic music which always has a great melodic feel, so I don’t think there’ll be anything in it that will scare people away’, assures Newbould.
Another element of Sawer’s compositions is the their theatricality: he learned a fascination with the dramatic possibilities of classical music from early mentor Mauricio Kagel, the pioneering sound artist and composer who included the musicians’ movements and facial expressions in his instructions for how his pieces should be played. Such dramatic ingenuity is essential for the telling, through music, dance and action alone, of a tale that revolves around a name-guessing game.
With the titles of the scenes printed in the programme, and musicians in costume on stage and part of the action, there are elements of epic theatre in this production, which is described intriguingly by those involved as closest in tone to ‘a 3D silent movie’ or ‘a tableau of moving pictures’. Very much in keeping with these aspects is Newbould’s assertion that the audience should engage critically with the characters and their morality – contrary to traditional preconceptions of the fairy tale ‘there’s a big question mark with this story about who are the baddies and who are the goodies’.
Tramway, Glasgow, Fri 20 & Sat 21 Nov