The Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker writes, “Like no other, Bach's music carries within itself movement and dance, managing to combine the greatest abstraction with a concrete, physical and, subsequently, even transcendental dimension.” Her words depict the dance power of Bach’s music and perhaps explain why so many prominent choreographers have set his scores. Indeed, when watching a Bach dance I am often struck by the way music and dance features interact. A dancer’s energetic leap accentuates a high trill, or a sombre bass melody deflects the eye towards movement in the background. But music and dance also relate broadly: structural and affective characteristics inform each other across the media, whether through harmony or tension, and the work’s artistic identity is constantly shifting.
My project explores this relationship between music and movement in dance works set to Bach’s keyboard composition The Goldberg Variations (GV). This score is ideally suited to investigate how music and dance interact in Bach. Rich in structural complexity and emotional depth, it has inspired acclaimed works from a diverse group of choreographers. The project focuses for the first time on GV settings by Jerome Robbins (1971), Steve Paxton (1994), Pam Tanowitz (2017), and De Keersmaeker (2020). These celebrated choreographers present markedly different approaches to GV and a variety of music-dance interactions to investigate. The research involves close analysis of film recordings and Bach’s score, interviews with artists, and studio-based experimentation.
Supported by my unique background as a professional musician with extensive dance experience, my research speaks to scholars and practitioners in both music and dance. I offer them an invaluable approach to Bach and the music-dance relationship with the potential to develop scholarly understanding and practical skills, working through the lens of two art forms.