Long and winding road leads Martin Lawrance to a Beatles-inspired choreography – at last!

Long and winding road leads Martin Lawrance to a Beatles-inspired choreography – at last!

Principal dancers (clockwise from front) Gerardo Francisco, Romeo Peralta, Elpidio Magat and Rudy De Dios channel the Beatles for a photo shoot for The Winding Road. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

By Jv Ramos

After tackling nonconformity in Misfit and Maverick (2014), diving into one of the defining moments of Philippine history in the full-length production Rebel (2016), drawing inspiration from his favorite Shakespeare play in Amid Shadows (2016), and using opera music to depict tensions of love in Aria (2018), British choreographer Martin Lawrance is back with another arresting piece.

Much like his previous collaborations with Ballet Manila, The Winding Road – which will premiere in the company’s season finale Deux – is very close to his heart, especially since the songs used is music he began listening to as a boy. Moreover, this Beatles-inspired piece is something that he’s been wanting to do.

Born in Leicester to two deaf parents, Martin grew up in a household without music. But when he did get access to it in a relative's home, what he would hear were always songs by the Beatles. "My aunt would always play the Beatles on her portable record player. And, I remember that it always made me want to dance," he reminisces. 

As he listened to the British sensation more and more growing up, Martin soon found himself not just wanting to dance to the beats, but to choreograph pieces inspired by the messages of these popular songs. “Each song of theirs is a story,” the associate choreographer of Richard Alston Dance Company underlines when asked why he’s a big Beatles fan. “Many of them are fascinating. I have too many favorites if you ask me, and if you were to ask me to name Beatles songs that I never get tired of, there’s still so many!” he points out.

The Winding Road is made up of four suites. Choreographer Martin Lawrance describes it as “a story without being a narrative”. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

“I mean, just look at The Long and Winding Road. It’s one of the best songs ever written!” the British talent cites. “Over 70 covers of this song have been done. There’s one from people like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Olivia Newton-John and so on. Then, look at Here There and Everywhere. That song is just lovely. Just listen to the lyrics: ‘To lead a better life, I want my love to be here.' That, for me, just encapsulates love… Their songs are just like poetry! Very fascinating [which is why] The Beatles has been on my list of pieces to work on for a long, long time."

How then did his dream of creating a Beatles-inspired dance end up actualizing in Ballet Manila? Martin reveals that it was born out of a casual conversation he had with artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and her husband Fred Elizalde in 2017. “It happened around the time when I was working on Aria. While talking to them, I mentioned that the Beatles was on my wish list, and Lisa just went, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Being familiar with the way Ballet Manila dancers work, he didn’t think twice about “giving” his dream piece to them. But before working with them again in the studio, Martin, during his planning stage, made sure that The Winding Road would be different from any of his creations and that it would challenge them differently.

To meet these goals, the choreographer went for producing a 34-minute piece, starring 16 Ballet Manila dancers (8 male and 8 female). “What I did is split it [Winding Road] into four suites. The first, which has the songs I Saw Her Standing There, Here There and Everywhere, and Something, is the Love suite. The second, which has the songs She’s Leaving Home, Girl, and The Long and Winding Road, is a suite about moving on,” he informs.

To remind audiences that Beatles didn’t just stick to ballads, the third suite, which features classical arrangements of She Loves You, Fool on the Hill, and It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night, has a “psychedelic and out of the blue” feel to it. Finally, the fourth suite, where Come Together and I Wanna Hold Your Hand are played, focuses on the theme of unity.

“How it’s designed is, each suite has a couple or lead persons. It's not always everyone onstage,” the guest choreographer notes. “There are real quiet moments, little episodes in between, little steps here and there. It's a story without being a narrative. There’s a journey to it; hence, I called it The Winding Road.” Martin also points out that the four suites capture the many various covers of The Long and Winding Road since the song’s debut in the ‘70s.

Martin says creating a contemporary piece with his BM cast has been running smoothly. “The dancers that I've chosen are just amazing. When I say jump, they just go, 'How high?' All of them were just willing to go on this journey with me.”

As for the pressure that comes with touching songs by a band that’s loved worldwide, Martin recognizes that such pressure exists, but believes that artists can only really screw up if they express something that they don’t have a personal connection to.  "I can only be true to myself. I can only express what's in here," he expresses, pointing at his heart. "As in all my pieces, I listen to the music so much that it enters my heart and it just comes out in the studio."

Looking back at the process behind The Winding Road, he admits that the pressure became very evident when he was trying to combine the sections. "That's when I try to make the audience see what I'm thinking. But, here, I'm not telling the audience to listen to this or watch just this. I want them to have a whole sense of the piece, but I want them to find their way through it. In a way, [by doing so], this takes the pressure off me."

One might wonder why it took so long for Martin to come up with a Beatles-inspired choreography. All he has to say about this is things just never felt right. “I actually started doing one back in 1992, but I wasn’t able to finish it… You know, there's always music that I want to choreograph to and they're there on my iPhone. When [the player] goes on shuffle [mode], I think, maybe this isn't the right time, maybe I should do it another time. Maybe this isn't the right company."

While there are many ideas that he doesn’t pursue, Martin never lets go of these ideas completely.  “They're all bubbling at the back of my brain somewhere! You just have to find the right moment. And, I'm telling you, The Winding Road just feels right. I’m over the moon right now that I was able to make it.”

Martin Lawrance tried making a Beatles-inspired choreography in 1992 but it’s only now, with Ballet Manila, that he feels the right moment has come. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

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