More Than a Song: A Tribute to Lena Horne
Choreographer: Lynne Taylor-Corbett
Music: Various compositions sung to Lena Horna
Singer/Actress: Vivian Reed
Costumes: Judanna Lynn
Set Design: Dean Taucher
Lighting: Howell Binkley
World Premiere: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, May 4, 2000
PBT Performance Dates: May 2000, October 2002
Program Notes (from PBT playbill, 2002)
By Carol Meeder, former Director of Arts Education, and Marty Ashby
The choreographic career of Lynne Taylor-Corbett spans the spectrum of dance from classical ballet to movies, Broadway, commercials, and videos. “More Than A Song” is a tribute to Lena Horne, the woman and the artist. Horne's life, even as a child, was a struggle and a drama. After determining the elements of her life on which to focus the work, Taylor-Corbett chose the music to fit the events. She memorized the score; then using her “visualization technique”, brought it to life on the stage. "Even as a child, I saw pictures in my head when I listened to music. When I get a vision from the music, I write it down. I can always change it later. I've learned over the years to trust and rely on those visions." It's these pictures that she brings to life – changing, revising, creating, and developing as she goes, rounding out her creative process by drawing inspiration from the dancers.
As in previous work, Taylor-Corbett has taken a multi-media approach to make her statement. She simultaneously considered the musical arrangements, the choreography, the text of the musical numbers and the on-screen slide show that would represent this entertainment legend. Text is a consideration most ballet choreographers do not have to consider, but a tribute to Lena Horne could not take place without a woman's velvety vocal strains singing those sometimes melancholy, sometimes defiant, sometimes jubilant words of the songs Lena Horne made legendary.
The music selections for “More Than A Song” span Lena Horne’s career of more than sixty years, beginning with her debut at the Cotton Club in 1933 at age 16. “Just One of Those Things” and “The Lady is a Tramp” were recorded in the early 1940’s when she was a big band singer with masters such as Charlie Barnett and Artie Shaw. The 1943 film Stormy Weather, featuring Ms. Horne in the leading role, produced the title song that has become synonymous with her name.
“Old Friends” opens the ballet, providing a reminiscent look back at her life and career. Jerome Kern’s classic ballad “A Fine Romance” is given a new twist with a Latin based arrangement providing an important musical contrast at the midpoint of the ballet. “Come Runnin”, from a 1957 recording “At The Waldorf Astoria” and reminiscent of her big band days, is given a hard swinging treatment. When Lynne Taylor-Corbett expressed the need for a theatrical transition depicting Ms. Horne’s anger regarding race relations and the turbulent times of the 1960’s, Jay Ashby wrote the sole instrumental, “I Was So Angry”. Finally Michael LeGrand’s 1970’s pop ballad, “Everything That Happens To You Happens To Me” exemplifies Ms. Horne’s role as one of the first true “cross-over” artists moving from Jazz to pop.