The Church of England traditionally marks the beginning of Advent with a service on the eve of the season and this year at St Paul’s Knightsbridge we observed the date in a decidedly non-traditional way. Since the summer a group of us has been discussing the meanings of the O Antiphon texts and making creative decisions about how to express them in a combination of new music and dance. The process has been documented along the way in a series of short films and culminated in a performance in the church on Sunday night.
For parishioners who had been expecting the usual readings and carols it might have come as something of a surprise, but the films and blogposts around the project have been designed to bring the congregation with us on the creative journey. For those who hadn’t seen any of the online materials, Father Alan Gyle gave two short meditations providing context and ideas for reflection. An openness to experience something a bit different is all that was requested of anyone in the pews last night and, from the responses shared with us afterwards, we succeeded in touching people and provoking thought.
The performance was also a remarkable example of what is possible in a short time. Composer Thomas Hyde had, necessarily, finished writing the score some weeks ago in order that it could be recorded in sketch form for the dancers to work with. Three chorus movements were, as is normal for professional church choirs, rehearsed on the day and fitted together with the dance at the general run-through before the performance. Half an hour of music is a substantial amount of time to fill with movement on just a week’s rehearsal. In the end, choreographer Hubert Essakow‘s decision to leave one of the choral movements un-danced proved a good instinct, as it briefly re-directed the focus to the relationship between the music and the space itself. The church’s High Victorian interior and generous acoustic were a sumptuous canvas on which the movement and music could meet.