COALFIELD TO LANDSCAPE
CoalField to Landscape brings together Danish-based composer Liv Vester Larsen and ESD's creative director Eliot Smith for the creation of an interdisciplinary contemporary dance duet created at what was once the largest pit village in the world, Woodhorn Museum. The work highlights the sustainable transformation from coalfields to the landscape of Northumberland — an area of outstanding natural beauty.
This work followers Larsen's and ESD's participation in the International Touring and Environmental Responsibility programme 2023.
Choreographer Eliot Smith
Composer Liv Vester Larsen
Dancers Rowan Parker and Yamit Salazar
Guest Composer Adam Johnson
Text Community Participants
Property Designer and Costume Eliot Smith
Duration 26 minutes
First showing Woodhorn Museum, Northumberland 20 October 2023
Official promo trailer
Reflections on Coalfield to Landscape
The Choreographer, Eliot Smith
Landscapes are often regarded as a cultural and spiritual resource that have, for an eternity, evoked feelings, memories, a sense of belonging and often influenced faiths.
It is widely acknowledged that landscape change has sped up significantly since the evolution of humans and noticeably since the onset of the agricultural and industrial revolutions.
The landscape surrounding us today in Ashington, Northumberland is of flat ground formed during the Carboniferous period when ancient tropical swamp forests were buried and formed the coal seams that have given this area its significance.
The nearby lakeside is Queen Elizabeth II Country Park, once the site of a colliery spoil heap. The diverse habitats around the lake play host to a variety of birds, plants and mammals, including both resident and migratory birds.
It is unimaginable to think how these landscapes have transformed over the centuries and how nature and wildlife is trying to recuperate its presence in our ever changing environments.
Coalfield to Landscape is inspired by our surroundings present with us today and fuels the abstract movement language created for this piece, alongside the musical score – highlighting the ancient and traditional Northumbrian sounds and melodies.
To reveal the communities living in Ashington and the surrounding areas, this piece has also captured residents' personal relationship with the land, thereby connecting people with their heritage and incorporating their voice in this piece.
Coalfield to Landscape is a moment to highlight the importance and protection of the landscape around us through the medium of contemporary dance and music.
In an effort to be sustainable and reduce our carbon footprint, the costumes have either been re-used or recycled from previous repertoire and the creative team have travelled via rail, bus, and ferry.
The Composer, Liv Vester Larsen
To understand the core of the music that has arisen in and around Northumberland, I have started from the roots... the Northumberland borders with Scotland and the connection to the instruments that have been used in the area.
One of these instruments is the Northumbrian smallpipe, also known as Northumbrian pipes. They have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than 250 years.
The instrument consists of one chanter (generally with keys) and usually four drones. The cylindrically bored chanter has a number of metal keys, most commonly seven, but chanters with a range of over two octaves can be made which require seventeen or more keys, all played with either the right hand thumb or left little finger.
In the traditional Northumbrian tune called Bonnie Pit Laddie, the drones are played on the 1st and 5th steps as well as the 1st step an octave above. These drones are usually used in the traditional tunes. I have also heard examples where the drones 1st, 4th and 5th steps are played. I was inspired by these drones when I wrote a new melody and arrangement for the ballad about True Thomas.
Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas is a ballad about the medieval prophet Thomas of Ercildoune. He meets the Queen of Elfland who takes him away from earth for seven years, putting him through various rituals which no doubt instil his prophetic powers.
Northumberland is known as an old minefield and therefore has a proud tradition within Brass band, called Miners band, Rapper sword dance, known as short sword dance, and driving mini horses, called Pitponies. One of their most renowned composers is Robert Saint (Robert "Bob" Saint 1905 –1950). He was a British composer, musician and animal welfare activist from Hebburn,
South Tyneside, best known for his 1930s brass band composition "Gresford", about the Gresford disaster and known as "The Miners' Hymn". He was very interested in the welfare of the mining horses.
In Northumbrian Brass band/Miners band, the bass drum is a clear part of the soundscape.
The music for Coalfield to Landscape includes elements from bass drums, swords from Rapper sword dance, sound of hooves from pit ponies and collected natural materials from the area around Ashington and Woodhorn as well as materials from the industrial past. Sound recordings of coal, steel, factories, and wind vibrations in-interaction with trees to amplify the natural experience of this piece.