Writings On Water (2003, UK)

1 January 2003

50 minutes, colour, DigiBeta
© GB Productions, 2003
distributed by GB Productions, UK
PO Box 6353 Leics. LE7 9YH England


A 50-minute arts documentary detailing a latest solo dance ‘Writings On Water’ by the renown dancer/choreographer Carolyn Carlson as performed by her in Teatro Malibran, Venice, in March 2002.

Featuring absorbing music by Gavin Bryars, the film encompasses Carolyn Carlson’s diverse and captivating style. A short interview with Carolyn filmed in the same settings gives an insight into her unique and charismatic persona.


Produced and directed Anna Tchernakova
Camera: Rod Baker-Benfield, Dylan Moore
Location sound: Rod baker-Benfiled
Editor: Anna Tchernakova
Sound Mix: DVA studios
Production Assistant: Suzie Jackson
Researches: Suzie Jackson, Rod Baker-Benfield
Music by Gavin Bryars
Music published by Schott Music Publishers
Dance by Carolyn Carlson
Performed in Teatro Malibran, Venice, Italy
March 2002

The film is produced with participation of La Biennale di Venezia Fondazione Teatro La Fenice (Italy) Blue Bear Productions University of Lincoln (England)

Produced by
GB Productions
PO Box 6353 Billesdon Leics.
LE7 9YH England

Carolyn Carlson, choreographer and performer

Carolyn Carlson was born in California in 1943. She studied at San Francisco Ballet School under Alwin Nikolais and was invited to create a piece for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1973. The resulting Density 21.5 was so well received that a special post was created for her.

Since then she has directed her own company at Teatro La Fenice, Venice, and now at the Teatro Malibran, which has resulted in the creation of internationally acclaimed pieces such as Undici Onde (1981), L’Orso e la Luna (1983), and Blue Lady (1985/86). Synonymous with the dance and choreography world, she spends half of her year in Venice, where she heads Dance at La Biennale di Venezia) and the other half in Paris – the surrogate homes of contemporary dance.

Aged sixty, she continues to innovate and create pieces charged with the personal emotion that is exclusive to her name.

Carolyn Carlson's Interview Transcripts

Carolyn Carlson Interview transcript (I)
Master Time Code 00:01:25-00:03.25
Duration 02:00

This project started with the collaboration of the Teatro La Fenice and La Biennale di Venezia. We had a big experience in the eighties here; I created a company in my four years here with very young Italian dancers. They are all consequently now choreographers and great teachers and video artists. So the Fenice asked if I would do a memory of these years in collaboration with the Biennale. So I was thinking of this idea of memory… and then who are we in the memory of the Universe, in Cosmos? I mean what is our connection in this… who were we before we were born? I am very much… attracted to these mystic states that I have often… because I feel like I am from somewhere else… I think this is not unique; I think we all have these mystic experiences. There is somewhere a memory that we come from somewhere else and we are something else other than this Earth memory, this cultural environment we live in… For the choice of the music immediately I said Gavin Bryars is the composer to support this idea. It’s interesting you don’t know where [his] music comes from and where it’s going, it’s one constant flow… This is the third time I work with Gavin but first time live music, which has been an extraordinary experience… because usually in the contemporary world you don’t have possibility of performing with live music, it’s usually on tape. Gavin has I think there are eleven Italian musicians… and that’s what makes this piece special also because everything is transparent: the music is there at the moment, the dance is at the moment, you see it now and everything disappears.

Carolyn Carlson Interview transcript (II)
Master Time Code 00:47:19 – 00:48:11
Duration 01:52

I had a wonderful Zen teacher when I was in New-York and the test was: you do a gesture in the space… and he says: no I don’t see, it did not stay, do it again. So we would do this for hours, and the precision of absolutely stuck… getting this gesture in space till you knew you stepped back and gesture was still there… I don’t know how long… But it’s a very nice way of also perceiving life… so when one says something or does something you known it might stay… so you better be careful! It’s what I call being a spiritual warrior… This is what I teach when I talk to dancers: you are like spiritual warriors, you do a gesture in space, the gesture lasts forever, so you have to do it as if forever.

Writings on Water

The music for Writings on Water falls into five parts - being five self-contained pieces which are played without a break to form a single, whole work. The pieces, for a small orchestra of 11 strings and piano, are:

1. Introit - for piano and strings

2. Lauda 2 - "Laude novella"  for unaccompanied solo soprano (Anna Maria Friman)

3. The North Shore - for solo viola, piano and strings

4. In Nomine (after Purcell) - for strings

5. Violin Concerto, ("The Bulls of Bashan") - for solo violin and strings

The first two of these were written specially for the dance and the others were modified substantially. In Nomine, for example, was originally for a 6-part consort of viols and is transformed when arranged for a larger ensemble of modern strings.

The work started when Carolyn chose to put the last three pieces together as a possible sequence and evolved into the work as it now stands little by little. At first a mediaeval "Lauda" was used to open the work, which was at that time half of an evening's work, but then Gavin Bryars wrote an original Lauda of his own to give greater coherence to the music. In fact, this started him out on his extensive project of writing a large volume of Lauda for Anna Maria Friman - probably more than 50 - of which 21 are already written. When it was decided to extend the piece into its present full evening form, the opening instrumental work, Introit, was added (to accompany a projected video of water) but using the same instrumental forces and making reference to other parts of the music.