Q & A with Anna Appleby – Rambert Music Fellow 2016/17

You’re now reaching the end of your fellowship at Rambert, what have you enjoyed most about your time there?

Everything! This year has really changed my life. It was great even just to tour with the company and see them in action, experience lots of contemporary pieces alongside some classic works, and get to know everyone here. Having the chance to make work with Rambert has pushed me creatively and professionally, and I feel I’ve grown as a result. I think my favourite aspect of my time here has been the incredible conversations I’ve had with so many different artists.

How has Rambert developed you, both as a composer and a musician?

It is hard to measure this, as I feel that I have learned so many things in the past year that it will take some time to work out where I am in relation to where I was last September! Working with Rambert has given me a real insight into the dance world, and I’m totally addicted to movement in a way that I never was before. I think this idea of motion and also real collaboration influences everything I now write. Some of the opportunities I’ve had during my fellowship with Rambert have given me the confidence to try bold new things, like electroacoustic composition, improvisation and larger-scale writing. I’m particularly excited to be working with choreographers Julie Cunningham, Carolyn Bolton and Mbulelo Ndabeni on a couple of pieces for Rambert’s shows at the Southbank Centre this month.

We’re very excited to see your new opera-ballet ‘Citizens of Nowhere’, written whilst at Rambert. Did your fellowship experience influence the composition?

I began writing the opera before my fellowship at Rambert started, but the piece has evolved over the year due to my experience of working with a dance company. The idea to make it a fully choreographed work came about in November when I talked to Dane about the possibility, and I think I was more inspired to do so because of being immersed in the dance world at the moment. It was great to have advice and feedback from some of the staff at Rambert, too.

What other influences do you draw on when you work, any favourite composers?

It’s hard to say whose influences you might hear in my music, but I’ve always been inspired by Britten, Shostakovich, Mahler and Stravinsky as each of them have a quite stark musical language, which you might notice is also the case in this piece.

The story-line draws on recent political events, what should the audience be looking out for?

I was motivated to write the music based on very strong emotional responses to Brexit and the refugee crisis (or crises). I also started to question my identity in the face of nationalism and closing borders. The island-mainland relationship in the opera is an unsubtle metaphor for current negotiations, and the three characters represent contrasting responses to tragedy: grief, anger and politics.

The Opera-Ballet focuses on three dancers and three singers. How do the characters interact and what stories do they tell?

The movement that Dane has created for the dancers revolves around the question of ‘Who am I?’ and ideas of citizenship and what that might mean. The singers are three islanders who become stranded on the mainland during a storm and they begin to question what their identity is in relation to the island and to each other, especially in the face of a tragedy that occurs. The music and dance work with the idea of moving from isolation to community, with some conflict on the way.

You’ve worked Dane Hurst (Director and Choreographer) before. How did your collaboration unfold?

Dane and I met at the Cohan Collective, a residency for choreographers and composers which was set up by Yorke Dance with Bob Cohan and Eleanor Alberga at Middlesex University last August. We’ve been working together on this project since, with previews of the work at the Cohan Collective sharing and at Ignition Dance Festival in Kingston. Dane also developed some of the choreography working with Shawbrook Dance. The music has had two previous performances in Manchester too, so everything is coming together now.

Lots of the company are from RNCM, what connection do you have with that college?

I was fortunate enough to study for a Masters in Composition at RNCM between 2014 and 2016, and have lived in Manchester since. I got to know a lot of singers and instrumentalists during my time there and was keen to create something for them: the three singers (Ann, Helen and Emma) are friends and colleagues of mine and we’ve worked together to make the piece over the past year. I even named the characters after them! The conductor (Simon) also studied there having worked for the BBC Philharmonic for many years, and all of the instrumentalists (George, Alice and Kotryna) have studied on the Masters course there. It’s a real team effort! It’s great to have student musicians involved as some of the dancers are students too.

Citizens of Nowhere is performed as part of Tête À Tête: The Opera Festival on Saturday 12th August. How did you find out about the festival?

I heard about the festival due to a friend (Lucy Armstrong) producing her opera ‘Nadja’s Song’ with Tête À Tête, and was subsequently inspired to get involved. It’s been a great experience, as the team are very knowledgeable and supportive (and fun!)

Producing an opera is no easy task! Is there anyone in particular you’d like to mention? 

I wouldn’t have been able to spend time producing this opera-ballet without my Rambert fellowship this year, so I’m very grateful to Rambert and the PRS Foundation and Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation for supporting me. The opera-ballet has itself received sponsorship from the Arts Council ‘Grants for the Arts’ programme and numerous individual sponsors including Sheila Forbes CBE, who is a great supporter of dance and music. Finally I’d like to thank the team at Tête À Tête Festival as this has been a fantastic opportunity and it’s so exciting to have the chance to platform opera and dance together!

Citizens of Nowhere

Citizens of Nowhere takes place this Saturday 12 August 2017 at RADA Studios, Holborn as part of Tête À Tête: The Opera Festival’s 10th anniversary festival. You can find out details on the production and how to buy tickets here.

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