Penguinistic is a music and dance performance created by composer Darragh Kearns-Hayes and choreographer Nina Kay which premiered in Het Veem Theater on 14th May, 2016 as part of Composers Festival Amsterdam.

The Penguin Trio is made up of Darragh Kearns-Hayes (piano, winds), Vincent Arp (double bass) and Isaac Rodriguez Cotrofe (tuba). In early 2015 Kearns-Hayes asked Arp and Rodriguez Cotrofe to perform one of his compositions and following this positive experience, the trio decided to develop their collaboration. As the music that they had already worked on invoked feelings of movement, the idea emerged to develop something in parallel with original dance choreography. Kearns-Hayes approached choreographer and scenographer Nina Kay with the idea to collaborate on an hour long, through-composed piece based on the lives of Emperor Penguins… and so Penguinistic was born.

Kearns-Hayes and Kay shaped the narrative of their story, the life cycle of emperor penguins something that served as a constant reference point but not something that they felt bound to outlining explicitly. In many instances, themes were developed around an impression of or an emotional reaction to particular chapters. The piece as a whole epitomises the harsh realities faced by these animals but shows that life prevails and continues in spite of any of these difficulties.

The distinctive sound world of the piece has been created by the penguin trios unusual combination of instruments, diverse musical backgrounds and the desire of each player to explore the less common sonic possibilities of their instruments. The eventual score of the work combines material based on the different chapters in penguins life-cycle composed by Kearns-Hayes as well as broad textural landscapes reminiscent of the Antarctic, developed through the trios extended improvisation sessions.

The choreography and music were developed in parallel and this allowed both sides to inspire and influence each other. Most of the dance material was constructed by Kay’s own movements reacting to the themes. The choreography was also partly made through Kay requesting physical responses to themes and setting emotional questions for dancers Anamaria Klajnšček and Maja Grzeczka to react to. She then used the resulting material from these responses as elements in forming her overall dance composition. The process took them on a long journey investigating movements, patterns, rhythms and the relations within the lives of emperor penguins. Slowly a landscape appeared where music and dance have and equal importance and co-exist within the environment.

The performance has been enhanced by light design by scenographer Paulina Prokop and costume design by Nina Kay.