Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Dancing in the Twilight: On the Borders of Music and the Scenic

Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Dancing in the Twilight: On the Borders of Music and the Scenic

Article excerpt


Musical and scenic performances normally meet on well-established grounds: genres and conventions have in most cases answered all open questions about their hierarchy, the chronology of the artistic creation processes, and the kinds of expectations about their form and function. No one is surprised if a character bursts into a song in a musical, if music fills the "gaps" between acts in a theatre production, underscores the scenes of a film or play, or if the orchestra conveys the subtexts and psychologies of Verdi's or Wagner's heroes.

My interest begins within the wide fields of music(al) film and music theatre,1 or, even more widely, with the interplay of music and performative arts or formats (including installations, television, performance art, video games) where the well-established grounds are abandoned. My chapter focuses on production processes and performative phenomena that render the clear distinctions between "music" and "theatre" or "music" and "film" problematic if not obsolete.

If we take two current theories and approaches towards music theatre as an example, we find that they investigate theatre as a synthetic vision, as a Gesamtkunstwerk (Hiß 2005) or as "musical multimedia" (Cook 1998) but these ideas still talk, for the most part, about performances with clearly distinguishable components and how to read them historically and analytically. Both approaches earn merit by challenging the idea that forms of interaction between music and theatre could be dealt with simply by comparing their expressive contents on a scale of concurrence, complementarity or contrast. Hiß unfolds the different historical manifestations of the synthesis of music, movement, image and text on the stage and their philosophical backgrounds and visions. Cook questions the notion of independent meaning-making processes for musical multimedia works, and demonstrates how musical multimedia enables the "construction of meaning that does not inhere in one medium or another, but emerges from the interaction between media and subject" (Cook 1998: viii), so that meaning is "the product of an interaction between sound structure and the circumstances of its reception" (ibid.: 23).

I would, however, like to challenge the assumption that music theatre, music(al) film and its related formats have to be additive phenomena in their production and analysis.2 Historically speaking, we seem tempted to consider music theatre for example as being based on the division of labour, with a process of "sedimentation" creating a layering of successive aesthetic strata (libretto/book, lyrics, music/score, set and lighting design, musical and scenic direction, interpretation by the performers). Consequently, we also consider analysis to be the reverse process-an "excavation", as it were. In a chronological order, the elements uncovered would be the libretto, the score, the set design, the direction, the concrétisation through the singers and performers and the theatrical apparatus. In film, the ingredients and their order of appearance are perhaps slightly different but they are often similarly separated, both temporally and spatially. So for both music(al) film and music theatre all these layers may be interlinked and blended into each other, but remain clearly distinguishable, comparable and attributable.

In contrast, I am interested in forms of music(al) film and music theatre where those stages (and thus also the participating "arts", or "media") become almost or even completely indistinguishable, where they are not additive, but "fusional" phenomena: where authorship is often collective and blurred, where combined terms like "music film", "film musical" or "music theatre" are challenged, because it becomes increasingly difficult to clearly distinguish the two parts of the respective term.3

There are some theoretical and methodological considerations that underpin this focus. The discourse about intermediality provides a series of insights and differentiations that inform my investigation: Christopher Balme, for example, describes one particular category of intermediality, which is most relevant to my line of enquiry, as "the attempt to realize in one medium the aesthetic conventions and habits of seeing and hearing in another medium". …

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