three minutes to midnight (ballet)
Surendran Reddy was working as a pianist with the dance company of the Natal Performing Arts Company in Durban, South Africa in 1987, when he wrote an electronic score for a ballet called three minutes to midnight choreographed by Gerald Samuel. He had been appointed to NAPAC in 1986, as the newspaper article on the right explains. (It is from The Post, Durban, 27 August 1986.) The title of the new ballet refers to the Doomsday Clock created in 1947 by atomic scientists as ‘a metaphor for threats to humanity from unchecked scientific and technological advances’, in the wake of the devastation caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. ‘A hypothetical global catastrophe is represented by midnight’: this was the scientists’ opinion as to how close humanity was to this catastrophe, on the basis of ‘nuclear risk and climate change’ (Ibid.) The clock was originally set at seven minutes to midnight and has fluctuated up and down since 1947, the most recent setting being 100 seconds. In popular imagination, ‘three minutes’ was the most common, dramatised in songs, films and fiction.
There are seven sections to the ballet, of which the incredible jazz machine, which has an electronic score as well as recording, shown elsewhere on this site, is no. 2. Six of the 7 sections of the ballet are based on poems. The titles of the sections, which you can listen to below in sequence (1-7), are as follows:
1. prelude, 2. the incredible jazz machine, 3. to a small boy, 4. african lament, 5. the unexploded bomb, 6. your attention please, 7. elegy for the end of the world
The ballet was designed for high school children and was taken on a tour of schools in the Durban area in 1987 or 1988, as Gerald Samuel recalls:
It was made up a series of danced poems from the English curriculum that matriculants would have known at the time. I wanted to create something new and accessible to high school pupils about a much wider understanding of Dance other than ballet … One of the poems was ‘The unexploded bomb’. The whole thing was very avant garde for its time I would say. Consider that tours to schools would have mostly been extracts from Coppelia and demonstrations of pointe work from Swan Lake. This dance work was titled imaginatively and called ‘Storytelling in Dance’, and was also filmed for a larger exposé on NAPAC Dance Co. by the SABC [South African Broadcasting Corporation] (extract from an e-mail from Gerald Samuel to Heike Asmuss, 31 March 2014).