Vincenzo Lamagna on isolation, composition and collaboration

Among the many on-line offerings during the present lockdown are those organised by choreographer Jorge Crecis and Towards Vivencia. Alongside the strong timetable of classes, on April 17th, Crecis talked with composer Vincenzo Lamagna, best-known for his string of successful collaborations with Akram Khan, about presence, practice, isolation and composer/choreographer collaboration. David Mead reports…

“This is weird experience. It’s been three weeks and it feels like three months,” Vincenzo Lamagna told Jorge Crecis. “For some, it is really tough. I’ve been lucky. I live in a place that allows me to still have a good life. I have an outside space. I have a lot of things I’m aware other people do not. I feel I can relax, probably because of that.”

But there have been a lot of ups and downs, he continued, explaining that he had been coming out of a particularly stressful period. “I needed a break. I had this strong feeling of needing to slow down.” Not that it’s happened yet, he admitted.

Akram Khan and Christine Joy Ritter in Until the LionsPhoto Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan and Christine Joy Ritter in Until the Lions,
Vincenzo Lamagna’s first full-length score
Photo Jean Louis Fernandez

Lamagna’s atmospheric, emotive, sometimes edgy music that combines orchestral and unusual sounds is much in demand. Since Until the Lions in 2016, he has created the music for Akram Khan’s Giselle for English National Ballet, Xenos, Outwitting the Devil and the forthcoming Creature, also for ENB. But they are far from his only dance collaborations, having also worked with Jorge Crecis and Hofesh Shechter (he was a musician on Political Mother for four years). He also recently composed for Wang Ramriez’s Au Revoir for Göteborg Ballet, which premiered in early March. That’s all on top of his own projects.

Probably reflecting how many artists feel, Lamagna described what he is practicing right now as ‘accepting’. He said he’s not struggling, but there are ups and downs. “I am working. I have days when I feel really focused and connect with the work, and others when I don’t manage to and I feel confused. In those moments all I can do is accept what it is and embrace it. I am not missing going out and I don’t mind this forced isolation, however I would love to get in a studio with musicians right now.”

One of the tracks Vincenzo Lamagna composed for Akram Khan’s Creature accompanied by a short film by Maxime Dos

While the present situation is clearly affecting things, he explained that he has always tended towards a more personal way of working. Today’s technology makes that all the more possible. “Twenty or thirty years ago, you had to play with other people for your music to come into fruition, to have a life. There have been plenty of solo artists but the tendency was to come together to create music. Now I can have an entire orchestra on my laptop and almost control individual ‘musicians’. I think that pushes musicians in general, and certainly me, towards working on my own.”

But that can be difficult, both on a practical and spiritual level. It’s taxing because it is difficult to share or delegate. “I do the amount of work five or six people might. I compose and produce the music, get as far as I can into the technical aspects of recording it, tailor the sounds, mix and master it. I love all this. I’m very specific in how I want things to go.” But as he admitted, with sometimes five or six productions a year, that’s a lot to deal with.

“And I do miss other people. Technology is fantastic. I can take a piece from nothing to almost finished in a small room but it does push me to be in front of a screen. Of course, I can still feed off directors and choreographers but there are moments where I miss a reflection with other musicians.”

Acosta Danza in Twelve by Jorge Crecis with music by Vincenzo LamagnaPhoto Jose V. Gavilondo
Acosta Danza in Twelve by Jorge Crecis
with music by Vincenzo Lamagna
Photo Jose V. Gavilondo

He was quick to add that working alone does have its positive side too. It removes the need to articulate or interpret a thought or make sure it comes across as you intend, he said. “Also, I tend to be quite slow in my process. To be on my own means I can work at my own pace. I know I have a deadline and that I have to deliver, but I can choose how. There is another aspect that goes deeper. Getting inspiration from others and the environment is important but taking moments where you can really be on your own is essential for life, certainly for me.”

‘How do you go about putting your music at the service of someone else’s vision, responding somehow to a choreographer or director’s mood, or to anything else that comes to you in a dance form?’, wondered Crecis.

“It’s a process. It’s never concrete,” explained Lamagna. “It always it comes down to conversations with the director and the whole creative team: the imagery, sensations, emotions that are created for me. I need depth of thought. What works for me is a constant conversation that goes deeper and deeper into what we are trying to make happen or unleash.”

English National Ballet in Akram Khan's GisellePhoto Laurent Liotardo
English National Ballet in Akram Khan’s Giselle
with music by Vincenzo Lamagna
Photo Laurent Liotardo

It has to be a collective experience with the constant involvement of everyone, he continued. “My creative process is dirty, like working with sand and mud. It’s my own way of approaching it and it feels almost like dancing and moving in thick water. However, I have a natural tendency not to want to impose that on others, especially if I’ve been invited into someone else’s ‘house’. I want the other person to be totally free and as fragile as they want to be. The first step is to go in with the desire to love the people I am working with.”

There are always those blank moments when he struggles to move forward, though. “The answer is to accept it and let go. The tendency is to struggle, fight it and try to find a solution. Most of the time the solution is there. Go and listen to other things. Ask the director or choreographer to feed you something.”

Also messy, is the conversation or ‘dance’ that happens with ego, he added. “Sometimes, I do feel, ‘No, this is not going to happen right now. Give me the chance to try something else’. But I am not imposing my idea. My job is to interpret others’ ideas within the collective.

Jeffrey Cirio and Akram Khan in rehearsal for CreaturePhoto Laurent Liotardo
Vicenzo Lamagna wrote the music for Akram Khan’s forthcoming Creature for English National Ballet
Pictured: Akram Khan in rehearsal with Jeffrey Cirio
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Having said all that, there are always specific roles, says Lamagna. “Akram is very clear. The final decision is his. He has an incredible ability to bring everything to together. Of course, he’s a great choreographer but I see him more as a director. He creates this bubble in which everyone feels able to be open; to step out of their specific roles at moments, get hands on all the aspects of the production and feed each other with ideas. There is no lighting designer, composer, choreographer, we are all super involved. But we are serving something bigger. It’s not only about Akram’s choreography or Vince’s music, or Michael’s light. For me, that’s the key.”

Lamagna said he would love it if everyone could play music because it’s such an amazing experience. “Music is the place where I live. There is no good or bad, right or wrong. There are emotions. They happen during performance but also when I am composing. And the act of composing is a performance in itself, especially as I do ‘write’ on an instrument, although it does then get dumped into a computer. There is a physical relationship between me and an object that’s emitting sound.”

Beijing Nine Contemporary Dance Theatre in Trans la valo by Jorge Crecis with music by Vincenzo LamagnaPhoto Fang Cong
Beijing Nine Contemporary Dance Theatre in Trans la valo
by Jorge Crecis with music by Vincenzo Lamagna
Photo Fang Cong

But it’s different to the edginess of a theatre performance, he was quick to point out. “Sometimes music comes through quickly and sometimes it takes weeks. You work on the same three notes until the composition finds its way. I feel a piece of music is ‘true’ when I get touched by it. That sounds a bit arrogant because I wrote it, but there are some tracks, that if I listen to now, I feel moved by. I somehow don’t feel like it came from me. I hear it, feel it like as when someone else’s music moves me. There are other times when I write stuff and it doesn’t do anything. That’s when I know it’s not honest; it’s not coming from a deeper place.”

Asked when we might see or hear his next project, Lamagna laughed, “You won’t be able to see much! The core idea is to perform in darkness.” Called I, the project came out of a conversation with a friend, Serafino di Rosario and involves ambisonics, full-immersion, three-dimensional, 360-degree audio that is used in virtual reality, 3-D installations and 360° videos. “The idea is that instead of experiencing the sound as a left and right experience, you fool the brain that it’s coming from all around.” Put it in a dark room and there is no front or back either, he continued. “The idea is to create a full concert to be experienced in complete darkness so you surrender yourself, lose the sense of yourself and the people around you. The first public performances were supposed to be in May but now it will happen when it’s safer for everybody.”

Looking ahead, of the lockdown and restrictions, Lamagna said, “We don’t know when it’s going to end. I don’t know where we will be in a few months.” Although Akram Khan’s Creature has been rescheduled for November, as he rightly noted, “No-one knows if it will actually happen.” He expressed a hope that change in how we live will come out of this but added, “I cannot deny that I fear we will go back to how we were.”

For more on Vincenzo Lamagna’s work, including video excerpts of many of the dance productions he has been involved with, visit

Jorge Crecis and Towards Vivencia have a comprehensive programme of on-line classes in ballet, contemporary dance and yoga. Visit or follow them on Facebook or Instagram for details.