- Reversing the Process:Investigating Multidisciplinary Compositional Practices in The Fall of Icarus
The Fall of Icarus was a piece of music theatre created by director George Rodosthenous, writer Duška Radosavljević, and composer Demetris Zavros with an ensemble of performers in 2009 in Leeds, UK. The piece was commissioned by the Cypriot embassy in Berlin as part of the “Fall of the Berlin Wall” anniversary, and the commission included the participation of Greek Cypriot Lia Vissi.1 As a director/producer, Rodosthenous wanted to create a chamber musical that could tour with a cast of four specific performers, as well as an aesthetically strong space design to showcase the bodies and voices of the performers. Thus Rodosthenous knew how the musical would look before he knew how it would sound or how it would develop its narrative. This is not customary in making musical theatre work according to the traditional model, whereby the music and book precede the visual identity of the work, whether it is a concept album (American Idiot), novel (The Phantom of the Opera), or film (Billy Elliot). Radosavljević accepted the customary restrictions of the commission (the theme of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the composition of the ensemble), but she also generated her own aesthetic framework of restriction by eliciting five mise en scène images from the director as her starting point. The working process leading up to performance yielded some important discoveries, which this essay wishes to highlight. We will contextualize our findings in two ways: dramaturgically and epistemologically, emphasizing the notion of reversed methodology in both cases.
First, although the following discussion is framed through the basic dramaturgical elements of time and space—and working on the The Fall of Icarus did entail Aristotelian narrative logic of cause and effect—we ultimately wish to place this work within the paradigm of postdramatic (Lehmann), and more specifically “composed theatre” (Rebstock and Roesner). While recognizing it as “part of Postdramatic Theatre because of [a] set of shared symptoms,” Matthias Rebstock and David Roesner define composed theatre as a form that “transcends Postdramatic Theatre simply because it includes phenomena from music theatre, scenic concerts, musical performances etc.” (46). The concept of composed theatre is particularly appropriate in our analysis not only because it transcends the aural/visual binary to provide a model of theatre-making based on the metaphorical meaning of composition (325), but also because, unlike devising, it is still based around the “solitary vision of one director” (336), as was the case with this project. Hans-Thies Lehmann (via Eleni Varopolou) also offers a useful notion of musicalization as a means of prioritizing the “director’s sense of music and rhythm” (91) in the process of creating a mise en scène. We find Lehmann’s and Varopolou’s musicalization particularly relevant to our process in which the conventional text for creating a musical was reversed: ours began with the director’s music and visuals instead of with the writer. This enabled us to focus on the creative advantages of such a reversal: namely, the advantages of deploying the directorial vision of the mise en scène as the dramaturgical structure for the creation of the performance text.
Epistemologically, we propose that the piece is noteworthy as a practice-as-research project, even though its research questions converging around a model of composition in a multidisciplinary [End Page 105] piece of theatre were initially implicit, contrary to the usual recommendation in relevant literature.2 Robin Nelson’s definition of a practice-as-research project is predicated on the idea of academic research, which involves a “research inquiry” and establishes “new knowledge” or “substantial new insights” (25). Nelson offers this definition specifically within the context of outlining the adjustments that a practitioner needs to make in order to transition to a “practitioner researcher.” Other recommendations include that the “research inquiry” (the term he favors over the more common, scientific “research question”) should be specified at the outset; setting a timeline; documenting the process; “locating your practice in a lineage of similar practices”; and relating the inquiry to a broader debate (29). As experienced researcher-practitioners...