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This is day 22 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

ship_small.jpgThere’s a huge advantage to working for someone as demanding, professional and uncompromising on quality as Wayne Sleep – it forces your brain to engage with musical problems until you find a solution; and unless you find a solution that they’re completely satisfied with, your brain is still engaged with the search even years after the initial task. This is a very healthy mode to live in for a dance accompanist, and it means that everyone else gets the benefit of your curiosity and perseverance.

After just over 20 years of playing for classes, I’ve come to the conclusion that Riccardo Drigo is often the answer to some of the most difficult questions presented by class –

Q: how can I play something painfully slow, but maintain the interest and fun?
A: the female solo (the one with the tambourine) from Esmeralda
Q: what’s the butchest music you can play for a male grand allegro without breaking the piano?
A: The male solo from Le Corsaire

In terms of the problems it solves, the coda to Diane & Acteon (the history of this pas de deux is complex – see under Esmeralda) is a little masterpiece. Wayne once asked me to suggest some music for the end of a gala performance. He said something like “I want a coda that’s not just your typical ballet coda like Don Q. It could be a waltz, but it can’t be too slow – it’s got to move; it’s got to be entertaining because I’ve got a lot of people to bring on and it’s the end of the show, so they’ve got to go out with a bang. It’s got to give a chance to everyone to show off, but it mustn’t dip, it must be fun…” and so it went on.

I’m always secretly very proud when I get it right first time with Wayne, so I was delighted when he said that this piece was just what he wanted. The more I play it in other contexts, the more convinced I am that along with the finale of Etudes, it’s probably one of the most perfect pieces of grand allegro music I know. It was the experience of working with Wayne that taught me how to recognise a good bit of allegro when I saw it, and I’m grateful for that almost every time I walk into a studio.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist