The Freestyle Orchestra & Ross Edwards' Maninyas Violin Concerto

Edwards' compounding and repetition of "characteristic cellular material" and subjection of "a small number of musical ideas to minute and subile variations [...] in a very energetic manner" within his Maninyas style has been noted by Michael Hannan, amongst others.

The Freestyle Orchestra reflected these variations by stacking movement motifs which reflected the musical cells in character. They developed a vocabulary of suitable physical gestures (which still allowed for interrupted musical performance), then combined them into phrases of appropriate length.

Here are three examples of how three different phrases, all based on the following five-bar musical cell below, were created by combining these physical motifs, then implemented in live performance.

Ritual is a concept that comes up repeatedly in both Edwards' own reflections on his work and related scholarship. One ritual common to traditional concerto performance is the inclusion of a cadenza, generally in one of the bookend movements. Whereas over time they themselves have become ritualized, cemented in notation, and part of the "work", originally cadenzas were an ephemeral improvisation by the soloist.

Schebeck wanted to hark back to those ephemeral roots. With Edwards' permission she inserted an improvisatory section within the third movement over one of Edwards' drone motifs, an example of internally focused "dance-chant" -- an insect-drone inspired, bell-like, rhythmic repetition shared by piano and marimba -- where not only soloist but also individual orchestral members was free to strut their stuff sonically, in combination with dance and smoke movement from Sarkhan Akhundov, "Khan", a breakdancer, violinist and modern mover. 

Though recent, catastrophic fires ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020, fire also has cleansing and regenerating properties essential to the bush. Much of Australia's bush is pyrophytic, meaning able to resist and thrive after fire. Fire likewise protects plants including the eucalyptic and native firs from invasive species.

Fire is also a fundamental part of spiritual rituals the world over. Considered one of the basic natural elements, fire is used to purify, to cleanse, and to signify passing into a new phase of existence in rituals ranging from cremation to fire walking, to yogi "breath of fire" practices -- to name only a few.


Amplifying music through movement / fire

"The staging of Maninyas is directed by The Freestyle Orchestra, exploring the ideas of human connection, physically and musically, in its many forms (performer to performer, performer to audience) as well as the inextricable connection between music  and movement that dates back to ancient times.

For this show, seven core members of The Freestyle Orchestra engage in an artistic exchange with Australian musicians and creatives, forming the #freestylesymphony. Movement is dictated by the music as we visualise it, exploring the emotions it conveys and seeing if we can amplify those physically - a natural extension of what we hear in particular sections of the music.

Very dance-like in places (for example Ross Edwards’ signature dance-chant), and very still and meditative in others (i.e. “inner” vs. “outer” dance), the work was written in and heavily influenced by the Australian natural environment and bush, evoking -- for example -- bird calls and insect sounds. In our staging, fire is used as a cleansing element, a function it has in both nature and ritual."

-The Freestyle Orchestra Program Notes

Note: in consultation with Edwards, to reflect the contrasting styles (maninyas vs. sacred), the central violin cadenza and middle "chorale" incorporated minimal movement and sombre lighting to represent inner stillness and reflection.



Group improvisation (midway through movement 3)

Motif 1.1

Motif 1.2

Celebrating fire and it's cleansing, rejuvinating and ritual properties was reflected in choreography using flux torches to represent embers as well as pluming lycopodium fire-spitting effects representing crown fires at climactic points in the music.


In nature

& in performance


"I wanted to transform the concert hall into a magic space where ancient ritual could be enacted and essential connections be re-established and shared -- the sort of things that were forgotten when the conductor and soloist got elevated so grotesquely over the last century."

- Ross Edwards



Movement Phrase A

In rehearsal

Edwards' description of the "ecstasy" within Maninyas and reference to “up-feeling” in composition was reflected in The Freestyle Orchestra's choreography physically. In musical moments of percussive climax, aerial drops were used to reflect crashing bass, while explosive lifts, flips, staff work, aerial beats and acrobatics were utilized for sweeping upward gestures and accents.

The Freestyle Orchestra generated a physical vocabulary -- both with and without instruments -- to correspond with these musical moments, which they entitled "explosive" movements.

Live in Sydney


Bookending the first movement, the choreography evokes harmonic connection and essential dependence between individuals or opposing forces, the balance in nature, of yin and yang, male and female etc.

These moments were represented through movement in two male/female duets, where the counterparts are linked physically, mirroring one anothers' movements and highly dependant on one another for their mutual safety/survival.

The initial aerial duo occurs during the first tutti and features the violin soloist and double bassist. The second is physical reprise to close the movement, featuring a cellist and a violist. 


Motif 2.1

Motif 2.2


In performance


Movement Phrase B

Compilation of explosive movement vocabulary

Opening "human connection" movement -- rehearsal

Opening "human connection" movement -- performance

Live in Sydney


Straps spinning

Motif 3.1

Motif 3.2

Explosive movements in performance


Closing "human connection" movement -- rehearsal

Closing "human connection" movement -- performance


The end of third movement is characterized by upward sweeping gestures in the harp, piano, and woodwinds and an intensifying violin motif (see score below) which is varied, truncated and accelerated in almost stretto style until it crashes into a climactic bass drone.

These whirling, stretto gestures are physically manifested in aerial twirling on the corde lisse, swung in spanish web style, and on straps. 

Spanish web with corde lisse

Movement Phrase C

Live in Sydney

Stretto finale with spinning aerials