A Conversation with Composer Dana Difilippantonio

by Lindsay Schaefer

I share with you, a question answer based conversation with Dana Difilippantonio on his process for creating the score for Silent Dance. It has been a wonderful learning experience to sit side by side with Dana to create the work for Silent Dance. You will hear through the answers that he is an incredible listener and creator. I believe he has a natural talent with working with dancer’s movements and creating score for movement. I look forward to developing more work in the future with Dana from start to finish. Andy and I are very happy to have found another solid match for Artists in Unity. Dana truly fits into the mission of AIU and the commitment we have to accomplish our Three C’s-

1. CREATING art for the better of all people
2. COLLABORATING with professional artists of varying genres
3. COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT through performances, residency programs, and events

I hope you enjoying reading about Dana and his beautiful artistic process with AIU. I am thrilled to share another layer behind the workings of Silent Dance.

1. How did you start the creative process for developing a score for Silent Dance?

I think I started with reading over your notes of what you had in mind for certain sections, and then watching the video (w/sound muted), and drafting some rough sketches. I do admit to watching the video with the sound that you had dubbed over, to get a better idea of what you might have been thinking for certain sections. I’d say that’s most obvious during the section from about 4:20-6:55. I really liked the ambient feel of what you had already laid on the video, so I just tried to create something very similar, but tailored more specifically for “Silent Dance”.

2. Did you create the score in order from Scene I to the end of the film? Or did you select sections to work with first? And if so, what sections were the first to grab your attention?

I wrote the first 2:30 in succession, over a few days. After that it jumped around a bit – I think I next jumped ahead and drafted out the middle section, then jumped ahead to the opening theme reprise (after the barn scene). I then developed from 9:45-11:30, while sketching the idea that would become the mirror scene from 2:30-4:20.

I’d say the first section that really grabbed my attention was the barn scene. I knew that it was going to take a lot of work, because it had a lot of impacts, and that the music would have to really emphasize the movements here more than anywhere else in the film. So, I saved that one for last! (Well, next to last).

The barn scene was really tough – my first idea was to use mainly percussion – but later I decided I had to have the strings in there, so I dropped the melodic percussion instruments and just kept the drums, adding strings and piano. I’m proud of how it turned out though – it gives a suggestion of beauty and grace amidst chaos.

3. Do you find that you have a natural talent for creating composition work off of watching the movement of dancers?

Many of the composers I most respect and draw influence from wrote for ballet, and theater in general. I think the whole idea of music+movement is so intuitive and synergistic; it’s been a huge draw for me. I’ve had great opportunities to act as a performer in various percussion and dance productions – but never before as a composer.

For me, what was uniquely challenging about this project is that when I came in, the video was already completely shot, edited – finished. All that was left was the question of sound. Lindsay and Andy knew that they wanted a custom score, using live instruments if possible. So, rather than having the music in place, and choreographing to the music (or at least developing both in tandem which, I believe, is the more common practice), I had to shape the music to fit the movement – every tempo, musical idea and nuance had to be completely crafted to fit, in time, with the video. So, I don’t know about talent – but after this project, I do feel much more confident in my ability to adapt to the genre, and I really look forward to learning more on future projects!

4. Can you describe the collaboration process between Lindsay/Andy/ and you for the creation of Silent Dance?

Well, luckily enough, they seemed to like pretty much everything I showed them, so I didn’t have to do a lot of revising. I’ve worked with some people who didn’t know what they wanted – so you end up in this endless loop of revisions. Lindsay and Andy knew what they wanted, and that made my process much easier.

5. Do you see yourself doing more work with Artists in Unity and with other dance companies in the future?

Yes. Really, there’s not much more to say on this one! Just, absolutely, yes.

6. If you were to be a part of another dance film what would you like the composition process to entail? Do you wish you could have been a part of Silent Dance from the start?

As I mentioned before – I think it’s more common for the score to be developed in tandem with, or even ahead of the choreography. Though, I confess to being a novice when it comes to writing for dance. We are all artists – so we all have our own ideas and interpretations that we want our work to reflect. It would have been nice to be there at the start – but as I said, this was a very formative experience for me, having to compose the music to a completely finished video product. I’m sure we will tackle a project all together from beginning to end sometime in the future.

This blog is written and created by Lindsay Schaefer Artistic Director of Artists in Unity. For more information on Artists in Unity please visit the following sites.