women, fire, and dangerous things

Photo by Skye Schmidt / dancers Leah Hamel, Sidney Scully, Karina O'Gara

Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things was commissioned by choreographer Laurie Sefton for her dance piece by the same name. This work was inspired by Marie Curie, with Laurie’s choreographer exploring the complicated, enigmatic, and tragic elements of Curie’s life and work. The piece is for three dancers and includes three movements of music totaling 28 minutes.

The music is composed for modular synthesizer, drum machine, and Ableton Live. Each movement features an acoustic instrument (either sampled or recorded live) common to the part of Europe where Curie lived and worked. The first movement is built around a sample of a rhythmic drone played on a hurdy-gurdy, with rhythmic and timbral elements from the drum machine and synthesizer expanding the orchestrational palette. Repetition and rhythmic monotony speak to the immense amount of repeated work Curie put into her research. The second movement features a solo cello melody throughout, with gliding synth counterpoint in a nod to Curie’s personal and romantic life. The third movement features samples of a cimbalom playing both rhythmic and melodic phrases.

Each movement also uses orchestration and timbre to explore the concept of entropy and degradation over time, which in Curie’s own work directly led to her death due to radiation exposure. Certain elements, either in the way the modular synth is played or how the acoustic instruments are modulated by effects, become more and more manipulated as the music progresses, often resulting in sounds that bear no resemblance to their original sources.

The premiere performance also included live visual projections by artist Shaoyu Su, who created a real-time, reactive canvas with Touch Designer. These visuals incorporated many of the same inspirational ideas used for the choreography and music, creating a fully immersive multimedia experience.

Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things was premiered in October 2021 at xMPL at the Clair Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine, with subsequent performances in 2022 and 2023 in Los Angeles.

Additional photos by Skye Schmidt