STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN – A new creative process with Sue Sinclair

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN – A new creative process with Sue Sinclair

Why choreograph this Led Zeppelin song when YouTube has great footage of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page’s performances? Do the lyrics mean anything? Like most artworks, how individuals perceive it will be many and varied. Does the song bring to mind happy memories of my younger days? Yes, when my husband, John, played and sang it to me whilst I danced around a small room. Why tackle this task now?  Because John faces an increasingly restrictive life owing to a degenerative disease and I want to dedicate this dance to him. 

A Dance called Stairways

How to source music for a song within copyright? Over my fifty odd years of dancing in public, a privileged highlight has been dancing to live music. With some trepidation, owing to his many commitments and professional classical music background, I asked Andrew Leach (a much in demand local musician, teacher and composer) if he would consider making me an instrumental piano version as the basis for a dance to see if it would ‘fly’. Miraculously, he said yes and EncoreEast members, lovingly known as EncoreEasters, agreed to take part in an exploratory 1.5 hr workshop in February 2023.     

Collaborating with Andrew

At our first meeting I explained my choreographic ideas. He downloaded and played the music score; we agreed the music worked and he kindly sent me a recording to play – very exciting. Although Andrew felt the February workshop would be best with live music, it was a very busy period for him so I planned to use the recording. At our second meeting I conveyed an overall workshop plan and he decided that timewise, he could just manage to fit in playing for the session. Courtesy of the endlessly helpful, patient DanceEast staff, our usual studio was swapped to enable Andrew to play the piano rather than a keyboard.

22 February 2023 workshop

Having welcomed Andrew, I began with a very silly activity, followed by Andrew playing snippets of music to encourage EEs to dance freely and get warmed up at an individual pace, before working on the dance I call ‘Stairways’.

Prior to the workshop I emailed the lyrics to the group for information, not because I wish to interpret them through dance but to show how they were used in the original context: ie introduction, verses interspersing a refrain and an ending. The verses and refrain increase in speed dissolving into a slow ending. 

This workshop set the beginning of the dance (including Andrew’s short addition to the music), verse 1, and an ending. These are the slowest parts of the dance and I hope enabled the dancers to become familiar with the music pattern. Mainly the rest will be more of the same but increasing in speed. The ending was set by me. Verse 1 consisted of improvised trios and quartets making spirals at different levels both on the spot and moving across the space; visually the quartets made more fulsome spirals.

Next Steps

I see each verse making different pathways and groupings of dancers. I would like the refrain to be in unison becoming more complex as it speeds up. Andrew wondered if we could shorten the music (just over 7 minutes). I guess from his viewpoint it is mundanely repetitive, from mine it’s a pick and mix wonder to be explored.  I have since worked out the first, simple unison refrain for EEs to play with at our next workshop – whenever that may be – and will decide upon the other pathways. I would like to include a floor-based verse to satisfy EEs who like floor work (with those who do not, moving through on their feet).  A verse involving lifts of some kind and one with a 7:5:3/2 dancer grouping.

Although I have no idea when this dance will be completed, I hope it will be performed for EEs families and friends when the time is right, possibly in a DanceEast studio. The group has discussed keeping a repertoire of dances we can rehearse at short notice – maybe this will be one of them.

In conclusion

I know the group loved moving to Andrew’s music and he enjoys playing for dancers.  I believe this is only the second opportunity EEs have had to enjoy the delight of rehearsing to live music.

I watched Andrew ride away swiftly on his bike (one that folds into an extremely neat package when not in use) to Ipswich Station in time to catch an 18.30 train – I did not have time to ask where he was heading next – but feel blessed that he is making time for this project.  Andrew and John worked in the same place for a good number of years and shared many musical adventures together.

Sue Sinclair