Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika Stellenbosch University Choir perform hauntingly breathtaking performance of Snow Dance for the Dead
Photo Cred: Stellenbosch University Choir

Haunting, powerful and absolutely breathtaking!


Stellenbosch, South Africa (3 April 2020) – The Stellenbosch University Choir recorded this piece just days before COVID-19 took hold of South Africa and it is difficult not to be affected by the sheer power of this work each time you hear it.

Composer Seán Doherty uses just a fragment of Lola Ridge’s harrowing poem about the horrors inflicted upon so many during the Russian Civil War (1918-22).

Seán’s piece, ‘Snow Dance for the Dead’ marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, which, as well as triggering four years of horrific civil war, saw the birth of ‘the Cheka’, the soviet state-security organisation and the forerunners of the KGB. The Cheka used a callous, mocking euphemism for the act of killing: ‘NatsoKal‘. It was onomatopoeia, an expression that imitated the sounds of the trigger being cocked and the gun being fired. This sound is combined with a fragment of the poem ‘Snow Dance for the Dead’, written in 1927 by the Dublin-born radical poet Lola Ridge, in which she urges little children to ‘Dance…to the rhythm of the snow’.

Doherty includes various physical gestures, some cutting, some poignant, which further add to an already over-powering atmosphere. A once in a generation piece!

Watch the video here:

Snow Dance for the Dead
By Lola Ridge

From “In Russia”

DANCE, little children … it is holy twilight …
Have you hung paper flowers about the necks of the ikons?
Dance soft … but very gaily … on tip-toes like the snow.
Spread your little pinafores
And courtesy as the snow does … 5
The snow that bends this way and that
In silent salutation.
Do not wait to warm your hands about the fires.
Do not mind the rough licking of the wind.
Dance forth into the shaggy night that shakes itself upon you. 10

Dance beneath the Kremlin towers—golden
In the royal
Purple of the sky—
But not there where the light is strongest …
Bright hair is dazzling in the light. 15
Dance in the dim violet places
Where the snow throws out a faint lustre
Like the lustre of dead faces …
Snow downier than wild-geese feathers …
Enough filling for five hundred pillows … 20
By the long deep trench of the dead.

Bend, little children,
To the rhythm of the snow
That undulates this way and that
In silver spirals. 25
Cup your hands like tiny chalices …
Let the flakes fill up the rosy
Hollows of your palms
And alight upon your hair,
Like kisses that cling softly 30
A moment and let go …
Like many kisses falling altogether …
Quick … cool kisses.

Source: Stellenbosch University Choir  
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