Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new initiative Ballet Now is joining forces with Sadler’s Wells to create a major new development programme for classical choreographers.
Twice a year, the scheme supports a commission helping a total of six artists – one choreographer, composer and designer for each commission. I spoke to Kate Whitley, a young female composer based in London who has composed the music for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s first double-bill with Ballet Now Fire and Fury for the piece titled Ignite.
Turner’s painting The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, chorographer Juanjo Arqués has created an electric piece of dance bursting with vibrant sparks and power. “Juanjo isn’t using the story of the painting for inspiration, but the shapes, colours, themes and emotions of it,” Kate explained. “There is a fire section which is the act of burning and it’s so energetic and scary, but then it slips into the reflection which has a completely different mood. The piece takes different thematic structures and shapes.”
Kate explained how enriching it has been to work on this particular dance because of much freedom the theme gives her. “Music is so abstract so having a theme like this, which isn’t really a story but a set of emotions, really allows you to have lots of space,” she said. “It allows you to take the music on a journey that you feel inspired by.”
Kate works really closely with choreographer Juanjo on the music as they talk through the ideas behind the inspiration. “He explains to me as much as he can with what he is imagining and then I go away and write my version of that in music,” she said. “Then I share it with him and we go back and forth until we have a score that we both feel happy with.”
Falling in love with music at the age of six, Kate used to play the piano and then began writing music. After starting to write just for herself, she then started writing for a lot of her friends who played instruments which grew into her career. “I do a real mix of stuff now, I have written quite a lot of music for young people and kid’s choirs to perform with orchestras,” Kate explained. “I worked with Rambert for a year as a composer in residence so I have done dance before but not ballet.”
This is only the third time Birmingham Royal Ballet have used a living female composer and it’s sadly something quite rare in the ballet industry, however things are changing. “It has improved so much even in the time I’ve been working as a composer,” Kate explained. “When I was studying I didn’t have a single female composition teacher but when I started working professionally I found female composers to be my role models. Because there were so few female composer historically, it is important to keep pushing forward.”
Composing this piece has been a real experience for Kate and emphasised how much of an exciting, contemporary piece it is going to be. “It is so cool to work with such a big orchestra; it really is such a treat,” she said “The scale of it and the scale of the company just feels amazing. This whole scheme is brilliant and such a great way to bring people together and create new and exciting work.”
See Ignite as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s double bill Fire and Fury at Birmingham Hippodrome, Theatre Royal Plymouth and Sadler’s Wells. Tickets and information can be found online here.