Still life at the Penguin Cafe

gcse dance notes on still life

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Choreographer: David Bintley

Music: Simon Jeffs

Designs: Hayden Griffin

Lighting: John B. Reed

Premiere: 1988, London.

Narration: Jeremy Ions

‘Still Life’ at the Penguin café is split into 7 sections, with sub-sections in each.  Each based around the common theme of endangered species.  Costumes are also key in this piece as they clearly identify the animals.

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The music is more than an accompaniment.  It determines the design elements and the choreographic characteristics.   There are a range of different musical traditions within the PCO tracks and this gave Bintley the idea of using a range of styles for the ballet, each animal is identified with a certain style of dance Bintley uses different social styles of dance as if in celebrating amongst themselves.

The music is lively and jolly.  It uses a simple and almost childlike, repetitive quality , this influenced Bintley to work in a like-minded manner

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Section 4 – Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk Flea

The dancers perform in unison like a typical Morris team.They perform a number of movements including the chain. The Flea often makes things go wrong. For example when the Morris dancers are performing a pattern called threading the needle, the flea turns the wrong way causing the Morris dancers to get knotted up.  Within Morris dancing there is often a figure of a fool, the impression is the flea is in this role.  The Morris dancers collect wooden staves, and start using these to hit against their partners, however the flea doesn’t collect hers as she is too interested in her shadow.  So when they are hitting she ducks down, and then jumps vertically in a flea-like manner, with flexed feet and squeaking.

The Flea using point work when she manages to crawl under the legs of the dancers to get free, however it is done in a comic fashion.  When she gets back with her usual partner she jumps on him, crosses her legs around his waist for support.  He skips off the stage.

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Music for Section 4

Lively, skipping rhythm throughout.  It has a folk influence, with a jolly style and contains brass instruments.  A piano and maraca keep an underlying pulse.  The pace and energy is repetitive and the simple tune is infectiousThe choreography follows the pulse and structure of the piece. 

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Section 5 – Southern Cape Zebra

The Zebra starts centre stage, poised, still and looking directly at the audience.  The zebra moves as if to let the audience see the costume from many angles.  At one point he creates the illusion of a four legged animal.  After this the zebra uses African like movements, there are successive actions of the hips and pelvis.  Even though there are 8 female dancers on the stage he never interacts with them, creating a solo piece.  After lots of movement around the stage the zebra freezes, looking as if he is frozen with fear, followed by multiple turns.  There is a gun shot sound and the zebra drops to the floor.  He supports himself in one final shape, balanced on one elbow and lower leg.  He then drops to the floor as if he is dead.  They use a video slow motion of this to create a highlight.  The Great Auk appears and closes the section.  The female dancers leave as if mimicking the structure of the music, leaving one by one.

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Music of Section 5 – Southern Cape Zebra

Brass and Wind instruments open the section, playing long notes in a minor key, these create a slow, intermittent top tune.  Beneath this is a second tune played by percussion instruments (cymbals, piano, glockenspiel), and strings (played in short, scrubbing notes), this is a fast repetitive, African influenced piece, that has a cantering rhythm and a jolly tune.  eThis helps to create a tension btween the two pieces.  The first tune climbs and descends a scale, building the suspension for the piece to reach the highest note, the gunshot breaks this tension. This tune gets quieter and descends slowly down the scale eventually disappearing.  Now only the percussion remains, the instruments fade away until the glockenspiel is leftThe piece ends however you expect more the final sequence appears to be missing the final sound, making a questioning and unfinished quality.

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