Thursday, April 28, 2011: Countdown

Imagine 100 of these ticking ... ticking ... ticking ...

Tick-tock. Time is running down. Only a matter of days now. Soon, only a matter of hours. Then minutes.

And then the curtain will rise (if there even is a curtain) on a huge glass case filled with 100 of them. A hundred metronomes.

All ticking.

All ticking in different rhythms. At different speeds.

Is this any way to begin a musical dance performance?


That is, if you are two of the more innovative and courageous performance groups in Prague — the Berg Orchestra, which specializes in contemporary classical music; and the Dekka Dancers, an ever-changing ensemble mainly from the National Theatre Ballet who have also started a free association of professional dancers.

They’re combining for an original concert featuring eight dancers and an orchestra May 9, 10, and 11 at The New Stage, the glass-encased theatre right next to the National Theatre.

Do you recognize the venue for Timing?

The libretto by Petra Tejnorová and Lukáš Trpišovský combines Gyorgy Ligeti’s Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes, and Ramifications; Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra; and Louis Andriessen’s Dances.

“All the metronomes start off ticking together,” explains Eva Kesslová, the Berg Orchestra’s managing director. “But slowly, they stop, one after another, and only one is left, still ticking,” she tells Opus Osm. By the end, an interesting rhythm emerges from the few tick-tocks left.

As you might imagine, creating dance to the accompaniment of 100 variously-ticking metronomes can create a challenge for the choreographers. But not an insurmountable one. The quirky Dekka Dancers, founded in 2009 by Tomáš Rychetský, Viktor Konvalina, and Pavel Hejný, describe themselves in press materials as “a peculiar club of individuals obsessed with dance” who try to “cope with this life-long burden in a creative way and want to share their trauma with others.”

Indeed, sharing is a key element in Timing, because the 100 metronomes appear courtesy of individual donors who offered to lend their metronomes for the three nights of the performance. “There never has been a performance of 100 Metronomes in the Czech Republic before, mainly because it was so difficult to gather a hundred of them,” explains Mrs Kesslová. “Everyone has digital metronomes these days,” she sighs.

A metronome

Of course. Think about it: even a child’s plastic, 2-octave keyboard comes with a digital metronome, along with the usual electronic settings for samba, rhumba, and disco beats. Today, wooden mechanical metronomes are heirlooms found in antique shops; it would be virtually impossible for an orchestra to purchase 100 of them just for one production.

So, to date, about 120 friends, family, audience, and patrons are putting their metronomes in the tender care of the Berg Orchestra. In exchange, donors got to choose the ‘seat’ on stage for their own particular ticker, and their names appear on the Orchestra website. “These are metronomes with their own stories,” Mrs Kesslová adds.

As Mr Trpišovský says, Timing presents the essential question, ‘at what speed does human time flow?’

The hundred volunteer metronomes, along with the eight dancers and orchestra, will help click off the answer. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Photos by Pavel Hejný, except for single metronome, Berg Orchestra website

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