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Desert Dancer (Benjamin Wallfisch)

April 14, 2015

Cover_DesertDancerDESERT DANCER

Benjamin Wallfisch, 2015, Varese Sarabande
12 tracks, 44:41

A score that requires and deserves your full attention. “Desert Dancer” offers heartfelt cello solos, lush strings and improvised vocals.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Set in Iran, “Desert Dancer” tells the true story follows the ambition of Afshin Ghaffarian. During the volatile climate of the 2009 presidential election, where many cultural freedoms were threatened, Afshin and some friends risk their lives and form an underground dance company. Through banned online videos, they learn from timeless legends who cross all cultural divides; and also learn from each other, most importantly how to embrace their passion for dance and for one another.

The score is by Benjamin Wallfisch, whose “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” has also been released just recently.

What does it sound like?

A poignant solo for cello (accompanied by strings) opens the album. “Afshin’s Theme” sounds a tad familiar, but the performance is so beautiful (especially when those accompanying strings add a subtle rhythmic motion through broken chords) that I quickly lose myself in the music.

“Beat Him Artistically” is quite an ominous track for low strings and strongly reverberating wordless vocals (improvisations by Sussan Deyhim). “You Danced Inside My Heart” offers a melancholy mood. It’s not particularly melodic, until Afshin’s theme appears towards the end. That sombre mood dominates the majority of the score.

“Somewhere to Rehearse” introduces a melody for piano that is somewhat playful, but feels held back by a slow and melancholy performance. “Hand Dance” is a delicate cue for soft piano and heartfelt cello. “We Can Breathe” benefits from a slightly wider soundscape (there are plucked instruments, high pitched synth pads and the cello performs in a higher register) offering a respite (though only briefly) from the dark sounds that otherwise permeate the score.

Afshin’s theme is reprised in the 9-minute “Desert Dancer”, a lengthy cue that also features lush strings, some ethnic instruments (duduk and percussion) and off-sets them against thunderous percussion. They’re the kind of drums we know from numerous action movies; and as such it sounds rather familiar, though they do really make a statement when off-set against the gloomy strings.

Director Richard Raymond on the score: “Ben captured the essence of the film’s tone with the themes for the characters, and most of all, the desert dance. Ben’s score is rich and emotional, and was the fundamental guiding force for myself and the choreographer towards creating the dance sequences. For Elaheh, I fell in love with the way that Ben utilized a counting pluck to initiate her theme, a complex, guarded character whose dance, addiction, and family tragedy are all inextricably linked. For the desert dance, Ben insisted we needed a score to match the vastness of the desert, yet the intimacy of the experience. He embraced silence and stillness where required and juxtaposed that against loud, earthquake-inducing drums.”

Strings and cello continue to feature throughout the remaining cues. Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim makes another appearance in “Silent Process”, whilst strumming guitars are added to “Where No One Else Can See You” to provide the score with a relatively upbeat finale.

Is it any good?

Wallfisch’s “Desert Dancer” is beautiful, heartfelt work – one that gives the cello an opportunity to soar. It’s a very subtle score and quite a melancholy one. I’ve listened to the album several times over the last couple of weeks and enjoyed it very much; yet when I sat down with it once more to pen this review, I was somehow surprised by just how mournful this score sounds. The slow strings and that deep cello do make for an oppressing, almost claustrophobic listening experience. With one or two exceptions (notably “Afshin’s Theme” and “Desert Dancer”), this is not a score for instant gratification. It requires your full attention (and it may require you to be in a pensive mood). But then… it deserves it. That lonesome cello, the lush strings, the wandering vocals are all exquisite.

Rating [3.5/5]


01. Afshin’s Theme (5:32)
02. Beat Him Artistically (2:17)
03. You Danced Inside My Heart (1:41)
04. Somewhere To Rehearse (1:02)
05. Elaheh’s Audition (2:48)
06. Hand Dance (2:17)
07. We Can Breathe (5:13)
08. Desert Dancer (9:26)
09. Withdrawal (4:04)
10. Silent Protest (:58)
11. Dance Is My Weapon (5:41)
12. Where No One Else Can See You (3:49)


Visit the Varese Sarabande website for more information.

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