Music for dance comes in a variety of forms. At one end of the spectrum are abstract soundscapes composed without reference to the choreography with which they share the stage; an example being John Cage's work with the choreographer Merce Cunningham. At the other end of the spectrum is music written in close collaboration with the choreographer; an example being Igor Stravinsky's work for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which reached its peak in 1910 with The Firebird, jointly realized by Stravinsky and the choreographer Michel Fokine (a comparable collaborative triumph is Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins' 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story).
Composer and bandleader Arturo O'Farrill's Dreaming In Lions was written in collaboration with Osnel Delgado, the choreographer, principal dancer and artistic director of Cuba's Malpaso Dance Company, a relatively young company specializing in high energy, non-folkloric modern dance. The album, which is O'Farrill's Blue Note debut, includes two of the four suites O'Farrill has composed for Malpaso: the nine-part "Dreaming In Lions," which takes its name from an image in Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man And The Sea," and the five-part "Despidida," a word which in Cuba refers to partings and farewells, usually sorrowful ones.
The band is O'Farrill's ten-piece Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble, a scaled-down edition of his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, which is replaced on the final section of "Dreaming In Lions" by classical pianist Alison Deane, O'Farrill's partner. O'Farrill learnt his art at the feet of his father, Chico O'Farrill, and the tradition continues here with the presence in the band of Arturo's sons, trumpeter Adam O'Farrill and drummer Zack O'Farrill.
Some choreographers are wary of music so worthy of attention in its own right that it has the potential to upstage the dancers' steps. Fokine and Robbins did not have such concerns with Stravinsky and Bernstein, and neither, it appears, did Delgado with O'Farrill, whose scores are not shy of full-on fireworks. Dreaming In Lions is assured in composition and immaculate in execution but, that said, it is at times borderline generic and at those moments probably works better when heard in a theatre supporting the choreography; which is, after all, the purpose for which it was written.
Despedida: Del Mar; Intruso; Beauty Cocoon; Ensaya Silencio; La Llorona. Dreaming In Lions:
Dreaming In Lions; Scalular; How I Love; The Deep; War Bird Man; Struggles And Strugglets; I
Wish We Was; Blood In The Water; Dreams So Gold.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.