Interview with Barry Ganberg, Head of Music at Rambert School
8th February 2022
What encourages/inspires you to make the music for class that you do?
Much of the music I play in class is informed by a desire to connect with our dancers and help them to stay connected to their feeling and love for movement. This can be challenging for dancers as dance training is so physically and mentally demanding. I try to play a wide range of music to help our students keep a fresh ear, to remind them to engage in the moment and stay away from training in auto pilot mode.
I use a wide range of instruments to help with this including my voice. Singing in class is a great joy. It helps to keep me in touch with my own feeling and can help our dancers to stay connected and in touch with theirs.
I will pick up a lot from the vibe and feel of how a teacher demonstrates an exercise which plays a big part in what I might play in any given moment. The demonstration may lead to a spontaneous improvisation which I had no idea that I would enter into a moment earlier. I pay careful attention to the variation of sound and atmosphere I provide in a class. I like to pay attention at times to how much space I leave in the air with the sparseness and phrasing of the music I might play to help draw the dancer into listening and settling into the moment. At other times I may go for pure power to help dancers to fly.
The classes I play for, at times can feel like little concerts, where all of the musical elements ebb, flow and spiral, supporting the wide range of movement that dance training helps our students learn and refine. I see each dancer, in a way as a unique musical instrument. I try to help our dancers to express the wide range of dynamics they are developing as they train their bodies and grow as human beings. We try to help each dancer find their own artistic voice and I aim to inspire our immensely talented students just as they inspire me every day.
Why do you feel it is important to play a range of musical styles for ballet class?
I find that the use of a range of instruments including piano, drums, guitars, percussion and voice for ballet class can help our dancers to listen with more attention at times and bring out the wide range of movement that ballet helps to develop. The sound of drums or tuned percussion like marimba for instance, can really help to encourage punctuated and articulate movements. I particularly like to use this for footwork exercises. I’ll also use a lot of piano and voice in ballet class but will explore a wide range of music, drawing upon many different cultures as well as classical music.
I also hope that using a wide range of music can help to attract more dancers to ballet. Perhaps helping to attract some who may have thought it is not a dance form they would ever want to dance or even feel welcome to participate in.
Is the music you play in auditions what a student could expect in real classes?
Yes, very much so. I make it a point to be myself as much as possible in audition classes. By the same token, I will also pay particular attention toward being clear and supportive with my music during auditions. I will also try and create a good atmosphere to help relax our auditionees with music that helps them stay in their bodies and enjoy themselves during an event that can be very stressful. We will try our best to help everyone to have a good experience which they enjoy and learn from even if it is an audition.
How does the music you play break down boundaries within ballet?
Something that I have been particularly conscious of considering the Black Lives Matter movement and our partnership with BADE (Black Artists in Dance), is how the culturally diverse music that I play in class can help to break down barriers for those who assume that ballet is essentially nothing but an elitist white privileged art form. Playing drums, singing and performing a variety of music and instrumentation in ballet class can help with this. Using music associated with a wide cultural range helps to create an inclusive enjoyable atmosphere, free from fear and the preconception that ballet is a closed shop.
Classical ballet is such a fundamental technique, which helps to prepare our students to enhance their practice and feed into enhancing many other dance styles as well. I feel passionate about helping to make ballet more palatable for a wider range of people through the music that I play. I’ll often delve into a wide range of multicultural roots from around the globe as a basis for improvising and developing fresh sound for class.
I value classical ballet, in the same way that I valued classical opera when I was a student, which I studied for 3 years after completing my Degree in Music to develop my voice and help give me the freedom of expression that good technique can help set the stage for. I dedicated myself to this technique believing that it would eventually help me to explore a wide range of vocal possibility, not necessarily to become an opera singer, although I could have explored that possibility further as well. It was one of the best decisions I ever made as I now regard my voice as my strongest musical performance asset and the technique which I have acquired will help to underpin my ability to sing at a high standard, hopefully for the rest of my life.
In the same way, the technique we gain from classical ballet can help to develop our bodies to ultimately dance with a freedom that can be applied to any dance form.
It’s important that dancers from all walks of life must have the opportunity to access and engage ballet or any other training they choose to and feel welcome enough to consider that this technique can be a great asset to their development as a dance artist.
With our platform as a leading dance training institution, it is important that we make public our commitment toward inclusivity and help to change the culture, attitudes and perceptions around ballet.
By playing the music that I play for ballet, I hope that I can help attract a wider range of dancer and encourage those who feel that they may not be welcome . Diversity enriches us all.
Here is a small sample of a little bit of music I played live in the dance studio (warts and all) for an adage exercise.
How does your work influence Rambert School’s goals of inclusivity?
I grew up and lived for many years in New York City, which has been referred to as a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. While in New York, I trained with and played with musicians from all over the world. Since then, my work has taken me all over the world composing, performing and collaborating with artists from places such as Senegal, Ethiopia, Peru, Lithuania, India, Japan and China, so I’ve been lucky enough to experience first-hand, the beauty and variety of music and dance from around the globe. This fascinates me and I find it a constant inspiration to discover sounds that are new to me.
It is a privilege to work in a school whose ethos and students are so culturally diverse, welcomes my diverse musical contributions and whose principles support inclusivity on all levels.
Our commitment toward driving a stronger impetus toward racial and gender preference equality helps me to feel even freer to be myself and offer music that supports and celebrates the principles of inclusion and equality.
Head of Music