Christopher Best

composer ~ educator ~ performer ~ writer


Twilight Tempest (2002)/ Waking Dance (2003)

Waking Dance CD front cover

Music from Indra Thiagarajah's stunning contemporary dance 'Twilight Tempest'

CD: £12 incl P&P Purchase

Moragh Brooksbank, Maryam Best; Vocals
Silbert Morris, Henry Miller; Djembe, Kumina Drums
Elizabeth Hall; Xylophone, Gyile (Ghanaian Xylophone), Djembe, Stick
Christopher Best; Marimba, Glass, Voices, Sequencing, Sampling
Charlotte Stock, Andrew Jones, Anna Clark; Strings
Peter Bernard; Trumpet
Madeleine Bischof; Contrabass Flute
Leo Bachmann; Contrabass Tuba
With members of the Dartington College of Arts Balinese Gamelan orchestra led by Saj Heming
Recording engineered by Christopher Best

Track listing:

1] Spirits of Yamalya
Yamalya is the mythological realm of the spirits of the dead, ruled over by Yama, the god of death. The spirits have no physical embodiment and serve partly as messengers; dragging the dead before Yama's throne to receive divine judgment.

2] Gyile Song
Savitri, a young Princess, sings to her husband Satyavan a song of love and happiness. Savitri however bears a terrible secret, for it has been foretold that Satyavan will die within the year.

3] The Veiling
The prophesied death of Satyavan.

4] Last Chorus
The mortal world is angered and embittered to see such perfect love denied. Savitri determines to win back Satyavan from Yama's grasp.

5] Yama's Kingdom
Yama surveys his domain and watches over the turmoil below. Ever the 'restrainer' - keeping mankind in check - he remains unmoved by their pleas and protests.

6] Processional
Amidst high ceremony, Satyavan's body is carried to its place of rest.

7] Mortal Love
Savitri swoons over the body, re-living memories of spiritual and sexual ecstasy.

8] Wake Dances (Kumina, Pacha, Yanvalu)
Savitri's reverie is broken by preparations for Satyavan's wake. To the pounding rhythms of the Kumina drums, she transforms into 'Queenie', Priestess of the Wake Dance. Astride the mortal and immortal worlds, she is able to seduce and entrap Yama, thereby tricking him into a promise which demands the return of Satyavan to the living world.
LISTEN: (two extracts)

9] The Unveiling
Satyavan is miraculously revived.

10] The Deceit
As he attempts to consummate their union, Yama is betrayed by Savitri, leaving him heart-broken and incensed. Savitri and Satyavan are re-united, destined to live happily together for 400 years.

11] A Fire Ritual (Agna Ayahi Vitaye)
With Yamalya in turmoil over Savitri's deceit, Yama invokes the Mantra 'Agna Ayahi Vitaye', cleansing the world by ritual fire and restoring divine order.

Waking Dance CD back cover

Twilight Tempest promotional poster
courtesy Indra Thiagarajah

In December 2000 I was approached by the visionary choreographer Indra Thiagarajah of Bimba Dance Theatre to collaborate on a unique journey, bringing western contemporary, South Indian classical and traditional Caribbean dance languages together. It was to be an exploration of the rituals that have emerged in response to that most inevitable but uncharted of territories, death.

Over a period of two years we worked with extraordinarily gifted dancers from the Jamaican National Dance Company, under the guiding eye of their principal director Barry Moncrieffe. Indra hatched a scenario that seamlessly interwove myths from the Mahabharata, (in particular the story of Savitri and Satyavan) with Jamaican folklore. I helped shape the structure into a dramatically satisfying form and began to consider what music I could possibly create for this project. I knew I should avoid pastiche Indian or Jamaican music; they lay outside my own tradition and it would have been pointless to commission me if this was the kind of music needed. At the same time, however, I felt strongly that my musical language would need a powerful shot of something new and strange.

I began to experiment by devising non-tempered scales and by embracing a diverse range of non-western instruments, each with its own distinctive scale; such as the Gyile (or Ghanaian xylophone) with its stretched octaves, and the Balinese Gamelan with its unusually tuned 5-note scale. The result was an unearthly, at times disturbing, sound that at the same time remained faithful to my techniques and language.

The dance 'Twilight Tempest' was performed extensively between Autumn 2001 and Winter 2002. Principal performers included Neila Ebanks as Savitri and Mark Hall as Yama. Many people approached me afterwards asking for a copy of the music and I had a strong inclination to find a way of giving this unusual score an after-life of its own. For the CD version I have remained more or less faithful to the original sequence of events; ensuring that the narrative is clear and logical. I have also been able to reinstate certain musical passages (Gyile Song and Processional for example) that never made it into the final dance score.