Maya Deren (1917-1961) wore many hats in her brief lifetime: avant-garde filmmaker, documentarian, author, and dancer, to name a few. Her influence, especially in independent film, has not only endured but increased in the decades following her death. Her reputation rests on only seven completed short films and five unfinished films. But in the  21st century Deren is still discussed as a fresh voice and a "past master who still matters," as described in the magazine Utne Reader.

Continuing from her successful rescoring of the film Meditation on Violence, Arlene Sierra has created three works in a planned series of new scores for prestigious chamber ensembles, set to Maya Deren's expressive and surreal films from the 1940's and 50's. Further scores are planned for the Deren films At Land and Meshes of the Afternoon.

Studies in Choreography (1945-51 / 2019)



Studies in Choreography combines two of Maya Deren’s striking choreographic short films, A Study in Choreography and Ensemble for Somnambulists. The opening Study features a male dancer who leaps from a natural landscape to a gallery space before Ensemble introduces a group of mysterious dancers who travel across a dreamscape replete with light and shadow effects. The energy and abstraction of the choreography in these films complimented by a score for a scintillating trio of flute, viola, and harp. Studies in Choreography was commissioned by the Aquilae Trio with support from MusicFest Aberystwyth and Cardiff University.

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946 / 2016)

Ritual in Transfigured Time, Maya Deren's groundbreaking film from 1946, is a collection of flowing scenes, combining dreamline tableaux of knitting, going to a party, conversing, that eventually turn into bold choreography. The journey of the protagonist is from widow to bride, via a series of fleeting encounters with past and future selves. The virtuosity and expressiveness of five ensemble musicians is meant to compliment the powerful atmosphere of Deren’s vision. The score was commissioned by the Goldfield Ensemble, Kate Romano, Director, with funding from the Britten-Pears Foundation, the Ambache Charitable Trust, and the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust.

Download an excerpt from the score 

U. K. Tour

  • 27 May 2016: Milton Court theatre, London
  • 9 July 2016: Cheltenham Festival, Parabola theatre
  • 30 September 2016: Oxford Contemporary Music, OVADA gallery
  • 26 October 2016; Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York
  • 15 November 2016: Cardiff University Concert Hall
  • 17 February 2017: Stapleford Granary, Cambridge

"What begins as a fly-on-the-wall video showing the day-to-day events of an anonymous female protagonist ends as thrashing choreography, the music following every development of the film, almost as though it had been composed as a soundtrack. The result was an example of how much more powerful sound and visuals can be in their own right, when united in intent. "
- Ellen Peirson-Hagger, The Cusp 

Meditation on Violence (1948 / 2012)

Deren’s film Meditation on Violence is one of the earliest non-commercial films on the subject of martial arts. Her camera follows the movement of Shao-Lin kung fu Master Chao-Li Chi, whose performance obscures the distinction between violence and beauty. The film was originally set with a very spare score of flute and drums which has limited interaction with the movement, focusing instead on kung fu as a traditional art steeped in folklore.
In writing this score for chamber ensemble, the power of the movement is highlighted in a way that underlines all its meditative and violent qualities without reference to an exotic, distant past. Kung fu and martial arts have become thoroughly modern in the decades since Meditation on Violence was made. The score explores a dialog with this process, and interacts with the many levels of movement captured by the film. By allowing an ensemble to perform in synchronization with the evolving movement of Chao-Li Chi, the music becomes a dramatic compliment to the film, exploring not only its meditative and violent aspects, but also its tremendous virtuosity.

Meditation on Violence was commissioned by Lontano, Odaline de la Martinez, Artistic Director, with funding from the Performing Right Society Foundation ‘Women Make Music’ Fund.

The first performance was given by Lontano, Odaline de la Martinez, conductor, at The Warehouse, London on October 22, 2012, with subsequent performances at Bowdoin, Cardiff, and New York.

Download an excerpt from the score 

"...Meditation on Violence was composed as a new soundtrack for a 1948 film about a kung-fu master. The music doesn't attempt to synchronise precisely with the balletic screen images, but instead supports and reinforces them with layers of slowly shifting ostinatos that are always understated. Sierra's score, for two strings, two woodwinds and piano, was the most memorable work on show."
- Andrew Clements, The Guardian

Photography by Greg Trezise and Elizabeth Thornton