“The music is a character too. And if you don’t have the correct music, I think that’s 95 percent of the battle of doing a successful ballet is that the music fits,” Val says. “What Ramona has done almost looks and sounds like the music was written specifically for this ballet. I think that is a huge success on its own, because that doesn’t always happen.”
Whatever it Takes
Choreographers rarely work incredibly close with one specific company, let alone one music director.
“He would be workshopping something in the studio, and if something didn’t work, I was able to do some editing and bring that music back to him almost immediately. That never happens,” Ramona says.
During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Val and Ramona spent months on Zoom calls counting and listening to music, discussing various solutions, throwing out or even adding sections or entire pieces of music. Once they were finished and satisfied with their selections, the duo had compiled two hours of music.
Ramona also helped the Finnish National Ballet piece together the score and all of the individual orchestral parts, she also negotiated the musical rights and royalties to bring this production to the stage — a task that normally wouldn’t be the job of the person editing the music.
Polish composers mean European music publishers. So, Ramona had to find the American equivalent and plead her case to make it affordable.
“That took a tremendous amount of time, worry and stress because we had this stunning beautiful ballet and for a while, I was afraid it would never be seen in America because of the cost of the music,” Ramona says.
“I think the biggest moment for me was sitting on the plane returning from Washington D.C. and reading the email that we got the rights and royalties quotes from the American contingent of the European companies saying, ‘we will cut this in half for you,’” Ramona says. “I was literally in tears on the plane. It was the last cog in the wheel for us to bring this entire production to the United States. If that royalty quote had been where it was, every North American company that was interested, would have bowed out.”
Ramona says she didn’t feel the weight of the last seven years lift until the end of August 2023. That’s when all the edits from Finnish National’s April performance were added to the score and sent to the Kansas City Symphony.
Magic Lies in the Music
“I either love the music just as a piece of music, or I love the music because of what it does with the choreography to tell the story so beautifully,” Ramona says. “There’s nothing in here I don’t like. The score absolutely sounds like it was written for the ballet. Everybody in Finland said that,” Ramona says.
Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Górecki, Wojciech Kilar, Henryk Wieniawski, and Frédéric Chopin share a very distinctive heavy baseline in their music, regardless of what era of music they each represent. Once Val and I found that and we were cognizant of its power, we made sure that that was one thing that your ear could really grab on to.”
“The sound that we were looking for is in all of them, and that’s why it sounds so cohesive,” Ramona says. “We were listening for that specific sound throughout those pieces to ensure that heavy bass line is carried over throughout every work through three centuries of Polish music.”
Ramona’s secret weapon is her ability to seek opportunities for continuity via careful editing and arranging. Val and Ramona were cutting pieces and fine-tuning two weeks before it opened for the first time in Finland.
“Val has choreographed an absolutely fantastic ballet and I’m very proud of how it sounds,” Ramona says. “And it’s not just that the music sounds wonderful the way it’s put together. It’s that it just fits hand in glove with the choreography. I’m excited and thrilled that we get to do it here and that Kansas City audiences get to see it.”
Listen to this deeply thought-out production for yourself below!