the incredible jazz machine (from the ballet three minutes to midnight)
Surendran Reddy was working as a pianist and resident composer with the dance company of the Natal Performing Arts Company (NAPAC) in Durban, South Africa in 1987, when he wrote an electronic score for a ballet called three minutes to midnight, choreographed by Gerald Samuel. The title of the ballet refers to the Doomsday Clock that has existed since 1947. It was created by atomic scientists as a warning against time running out for humanity because of nuclear proliferation and climate change. ‘I wanted to create something new and accessible to high school pupils’, said Samuel, ‘about a much wider understanding of Dance other than ballet. The whole thing was very avant garde for its time I would say. Consider that tours to schools [in apartheid South Africa during the 1980s] would have mostly been extracts from Coppelia and demonstrations of pointe work from Swan Lake.
The ballet contains several sections, some of which are spoken poems. Section two is called the incredible jazz machine, initially called the dance and the machine, and it was created by Reddy as an electronic score, the first page of which is shown here. In addition to a full electronic score of 24 pages there are also six pages of preliminary sketches. Both of these are in the Surendran Reddy Archive. At present, the work cannot be published. The electronic score was composed by Reddy in the NAPAC electronic studio, and this recording can be listened to below. The rest of the ballet can be found here.