Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Not a "Composer" Composer but a Composer for Theatre

Promotional art for Animus by Denis Clohessy and Noelia Ruiz

You might remember Denis Clohessy's musical score strutting with the flamenco moving Tino McGoldrig in Silent or chasing Farrell Blinks through a train in Man of Valour. Now his compositions take centre stage in the new play Animus directed by Noelia Ruiz for Dublin Fringe Festival.

"There was a really strong impetus from Denis to create music that is not just ambience", says Ruiz. "To create a piece where the music is the main dramatic drive".

Clohessy is quick to credit the talents of the actors as well, who on this occasion are Camille Lucy Ross, Jim Roche and Anna Shiels-McNamee. There is also an impressive design team with Jack Phelan and Aedín Cosgrove. I ask him about the story of the play.

"It's a Murder Revenge story so there's an event, either accidental or on purpose, at the beginning of the show and the truth of it will be revealed through an investigation. It's kind of like a detective story". To go into it further, the play's press release reveals that a man is left dealing with the consequences of a tragic accident while two sisters seek their own version of justice. But it isn't as straight forward as that.

"It's about putting the audience in a sort of moral conundrum", says Ruiz, "in terms of: is murder ever justified?".

Given his track record, Clohessy obviously has a strong understanding of different musical styles (his cinematic score from Man of Valour felt like a lost Han Zimmer number) and so I ask what genre the music in Animus would belong to.

"It's Clohessy", says Ruiz with pride.

In fact the main aesthetic influence is not musical but visual. Ruiz had come across a calendar by the illustrator Edward Gorey called Neglected Murderesses. "I immediately fell in love with it: the aesthetic of it, the humour and the darkness". Clohessy says that if the music is to belong to a genre, it's 'Gorey'.

An illustration from Edward Gorey's Neglected Murderesses. It's entitled: "Nurse J. Rosebeetle ... tilted her employer out of a wheelchair and over a cliff at Sludgemouth in 1898".

The musicians involved are Kim V Porcelli on cello and The Quintessential Saxophone Quartet from Dublin Institute of Technology. It's a chamber ensemble and Clohessy finds that the saxophone adds a noir element.

"I think in a way we are creating pictures with music", says Ruiz. Her approach seems to be very visual, using the Viewpoints techniques of Anne Bogart in the rehearsal room as well as methods picked up from other choreographers. She works with the actors to find the scenic action and then Clohessy applies instrumentation to the characters, forming a subtext of their lives. But the presence of music seems bigger than that. "The music becomes another character".

The idea is that music guides the action in the way that a play text conventionally does, and that could be extraordinary to see. "I wouldn't see myself as a "composer" composer. I'd see myself as a composer for theatre", says Clohessy, and with Animus he might be reassessing that role in a major way.

Animus runs Sept 17-21 at 20.45 at The Lir Academy

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