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This is Dec. 12th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th
I don’t think I have ever worked so hard or so intensely as I have on the many, many projects that Wayne and I have done together. He’s a genius, and geniuses set off litle whirlwinds of activity around them wherever they go and whatever they do. Wayne’s mind moves so quickly, that it’s dangerous to leave the back-of-an-envelope near him in case he has devised a show, a tour and a gala while you were putting the kettle on. As an example, when I was working as his assistant on the World of Classical Ballet tour, we met after the day’s rehearsals to top-line a number which involved arranging a medley of classical & folk tunes into a five minute collage. It didn’t take much longer than five minutes to decide how to do it. “Fabulous…And if we can have that tomorrow….” said Wayne, as I waved goodbye.

Five minutes to plot, maybe five hours to realise on paper for musicians the following day, which when you start on it at 10pm, is quite a tall order. But that’s what makes working with Wayne such fun, and such a challenge – he always manages the impossible, and you have to rise to the occasion.

We first met when he was choreographing Savoy Suite for ENB in 1993. The music was compiled and arranged by Carl Davis from the ballets and other music by Arthur Sullivan since the ballet was to celebrate the reopening of the Savoy Theatre). Carl would often sit at a desk the back of the studio during rehearsals, making changes to the score on the fly. There were many changes, cuts, interpolations and re-orderings to be done, and as I’d just begun using Logic, this seemed the perfect opportunity to experiment with making a nice clean score, and indeed, it made everyone’s life a lot easier to be able to create a clean score everytime a change was made, rather than have a pile of scribble & crossings-out.

When I came back from Berlin in 1997, I had a really ghastly period when I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, and so I temped for a few months. I’d just accepted a second long-term contract with a very nice company, the North British Housing Association, when the phone rang. It was Wayne Sleep, asking if I could do his next tour. It was a hilarious meeting – when I arrived at his house, he said “Oh it’s you! I’m so glad!”. He’d had my number but couldn’t remember who I was, but as he needed a musician desperately,thought he’d ring it anyway and see who turned up. So just like the movies, I packed in the day-job, and the rest is history.

It was through working with Wayne that I realised how much choreographers are actually composers. Whenever we’ve got together to arrange music for one of his numbers, it is he who makes the decisions about how things build up, how many times they’re repeated, where the tempo changes are, how it should begin and end and so on. That may seem obvious – he’s the choreographer, after all – but all these decisions affect the musical structure, and to the extent that formal structure is a vital component of composition, it’s the choreographer who’s the composer. I’ve never known Wayne to make a bad choice in this respect. When we first worked on things like this, it could be painful – I would know that I’d have to come back with changes again and again. Then things got easier, and I said “It’s funny, Wayne, this process seems to take less time than it used to”. “That is because”, he said with faux pomposity, “You’ve finally realised I’m RIGHT!”.

He was joking, but it’s actually true – in my experience, he and many other choreographers are far better judges of structure & timing than composers, because working with visuals is more demanding than with sound. Getting to know the secrets of good timing & structure from Wayne has been a wonderful learning curve. When earlier this year the ‘first draft’ of a piece we were doing for a charity evening turned out to be right first time, I felt enormous satisfaction & pride.

Wayne is a master of the one-liner, particularly when he doesn’t really intend to be funny: one of my favourites involves a very difficult tap-number he was doing at a gala. He had asked me to put down the music on tape for him so that he could rehearse “And can you do a really slow version, too, because it’s very hard.”
“And would you like a medium version as well?”
“No! I haven’t got time for medium, the show’s on saturday. Just a slow and a fast one will be fine”.

Wayne Sleep Dance Scholarship site.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist