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Poetic Inspiration: An Inside Look at Between the Rooms

Posted on: May 5, 2022

Our last Digital Short of the season is right around the corner. Between the Rooms, an intense, deeply moving new work from director and choreographer Kim Brandstrup showcases composer Anna Clyne's gorgeous musical setting of poetry by Emily Dickinson. We spoke to Anna about her inspiration and creative process to get an inside look at this work before it premieres on May 13 at 11:00 a.m.

What was the inspiration behind this piece?

I have been fascinated by Emily Dickinson’s poetry and vivid imagination for many years and I am thrilled to have this opportunity to further explore her inner world in collaboration with choreographer and filmmaker Kim Brandstrup, singer Joelle Harvey, conductor Eric Jacbobsen, The Knights, and LA Opera. 

Between the Rooms weaves together three poems by Emily Dickinson (I Heard a Fly buzz—when I died; I Cannot Live With You; I died for Beauty - but was scarce) with fragments from Dickinson’s Envelope Poems. Composed in 2020, themes of solitude and creativity resonate with the experience of enforced isolation as a result of the pandemic. Spending the majority of the last 15 years of her life in one room, Dickinson wrote her poetry in solitude. From the confines of her bedroom she was able to conjure imagined worlds and landscapes of great vibrancy. Between the Rooms evokes the audible realm that envelopes this lonely figure and explores her journey from solitude to an imaginary world - weaving melodic fragments with hymn-like statements.

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A scene from "Between the Rooms"

How did you approach this work? Talk a bit about your creative process. Was it any different when considering Emily Dickinson’s poetry into the overall piece? 

The creative process between myself and Kim was very collaborative. We began by reading many of Emily Dickinson’s poems and finding words, lines, and themes that captured our imaginations. I began to write music that was inspired by our gatherings, and it was only after the music was complete that we began to assign the text to the notes, which is unusual for my working process for works with text – I usually select and set the words of the text at the beginning. It was actually quite liberating to invert the process. As I wrote the music, I created and sent MIDI mockups of sections to Kim - we’d hop on a Zoom call, and discuss ideas – how melodies, harmonies and bass lines could be extended, truncated, modulated and warped to create an unsettling, yet beautiful and fragile, sonic world. Kim had a strong vision for the film and its pacing, so I mirrored that in the music itself – before seeing any of the dancers or the film. It was as if I were scoring his imagination, which was a new and interesting experience for me. 

Why Emily Dickinson’s work? Were you always interested in her writing, or did it particularly speak to you when composing this piece? 

ANNA: In addition to their incredible imagery, Emily Dickinson’s poems have a musicality that lends well to musical setting. I have set several of her poems to music over the past decade. These have included As Sudden Shut and The Postponeless Creature for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Lost Thought for Trio Medieval and 21c Liederabend at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and most recently In the Gale for Yo-Yo Ma.

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A scene from "Between the Rooms"

How do the visual elements complement the music?

There is a sense of narrative in this brief piece, which Kim captures beautifully with the extraordinary dancers Alina Cojocaru and Matthew Ball. I love how it both reflects and pushes against the music to create both beauty and tension. 

What do you hope audiences take away from the work?

I hope that audiences lose themselves for a brief 10 minutes in this work, and that they may be inspired to visit or revisit the poetry of Emily Dickinson.  

Anything else you’d like to add? 

Between the Rooms is a fitting prelude to a new large-scale work that I am currently developing that explores the blazing art and the dark mystery of Emily Dickinson