An Interview with Fabian Reimair

by Sylvia Villa

Born in Vienna, Austria, Fabian Reimair is currently a First Soloist with the English National Ballet. He says: “About 4 years ago, I started creating music for my own choreographies, but later decided that I would love to collaborate with different artists and their vision, to bring my sound to life. Electronic music opened up this world for me and armed with a laptop, passion, ideas and a good ear, I was not afraid to try myself as a composer for dance.”

Image: Fabian Reimair R-R de Oliveira- ‘Carmen’ by Roland Petit- Photography by

Has your experience as a dancer and choreographer benefitted your music making and compositional skills…

Well, as a dancer I’ve been exposed to all kinds of music throughout my life. Now every time I work on new music, I try to imagine if it is ‘danceable’. If I can choreograph steps in my head, I know I’m on the right track. There’s definitely a vision to everything I compose. As a choreographer, I’ve learnt that there’s no right or wrong. There’s just ‘different’ and ‘taste’. Anything is viable, it can be purposely disturbing or accidentally beautiful. When I transfer this approach to my music, it gives me some piece of mind.

…and has your understanding of music benefitted your performances and how you prepare for a role?

Like training your body, you have to train your ears. When you are starting to understand all the aspects of what you are listening to, applying a role becomes easier. I’d like to see myself as a very musical dancer, I do care a lot about musicality on stage. I think during a performance you can use music to your advantage (e.g. you can make your jumps look higher or your movements look sharper by using the right accents).

Describe what the relationship between music and dance means to you.

I feel that dance needs music. But music doesn’t necessarily need dance. That’s why you have to be careful to create powerful, but not overpowering music. It’s really like a relationship, dance and music should be equal, complement each other, otherwise the balance is off and it becomes a different experience.

Do you have a particular process when creating music for dance? Does this change depending on whether you are working with a choreographer or choreographing the piece yourself?

I always start the process with a single piece of inspiration: That could be a sound, a rhythm, an instrument or a chord progression.

When working with a choreographer, it is really important to communicate and idea, concept, story, number of people, etc… at the beginning and get an idea of the style of dance. That can be very beneficial, especially if you have never worked with this person before. I would then start layering, share some early drafts for feedback and be in constant conversation (with the choreographer). On the other hand I love getting lost. Starting with a clear musical idea and ending up with completely something else. I might make 3 different tracks, using the same starting point, before getting closer to what I originally intended to do.

When I choreograph myself, I prefer using some of my already existing music. I know what would suit my choreographic ideas and much rather give my full attention to creating steps – only having to adjust the sound accordingly – rather than taking on too much at once and making everything from scratch simultaneously.

Do you think that writing music for dance requires a different approach compared to writing music for a different artform?

For dance it is probably extra important to work closely with a choreographer, where for many, music is the starting point, the inspiration. They might rely on you to make the first move and get things going. And I think to every project there’s a backstory that you should take into consideration. Whether it’s music for film or music for an installation, one can amplify the other when used in the right way. The initial approach might be similar (we’ve all got a certain way to do things), but the journey and outcome should definitely be different. So unless you are making music only to publish an album, you should always be able to adapt to your new environment.

What advice would you give a composer looking to write music for dance? (What would have helped you when you were starting out or working on your first project?)

Try to spend some time in a ballet studio to observe a rehearsal, the dancers and steps being created. You’ll discover a lot about the piece and the personalities. Play your music to different choreographers and dancers and ask for feedback. Would they choose it, if not, why not? Then take a good look and listen to the ‘in’ choreographers at the moment. What music are they using and how are they using it? Maybe try to build up a relationship with a new and upcoming choreographer who would collaborate with you again in the future.

Music for dance can be electronic or using live instruments/ orchestras. In your opinion what are the benefits and drawbacks of each of them?

Real people with real instruments bring an incredible amount of (individual) skill to a show.

Live orchestra will always sound better and can react to what’s happening on stage. Having said that, the only real downside is that the tempo can vary (a lot). Different conductors can make or break a difficult show.

On the other hand, electronic music can produce sounds you can’t achieve with live instruments. The sound is easy to adjust and very likely perfectly mastered. The drawback of a recorded track, is that might sound generic and there’s no space to perform the way you feel it on the day and no room for different interpretation. So the beauty of a LIVE orchestra is…that it has got LIFE. (Btw the best experiences I’ve had, was hearing a combination of both in a show).

How would you describe the role of music within a dance production? Does this change depending on the nature of the project?

I see sound as the red string that leads the way through a show. Dance and music should be able to swap roles at any time. Both are able to carry a story, change the mood and create different feelings.

Do you have any opinions on the current state of the ballet and dance industry and how that affects the creation of new music for dance?

I think it goes without saying that lockdown was pretty much the worst thing that could’ve happened to the performing arts. The ballet and dance industry were in such a good place before Covid-19: Exciting choreographers were exploring ‘dance theatre’, using new sounds, making it more common to hear soundscapes only, house music or even spoken word in a dance production and attracting a new kind of audience. I believe that the creativity behind closed doors is still going strong, but losses will be immense and irreversible the longer restrictions will be in place. I find it easier as a musician than a dancer to keep going at home, as I don’t depend so much on space, floor or physical contact, but really the only good thing that came out of lockdown and moving to digital platforms is, that it gave a voice to artists, who would usually not get this amount of exposure. I think creatives are exploding with ideas and will be ready when the industry reopens again.
I know I will be.