'Still Life' at the Penguin Cafe

Still Life at the Penguin Cafe is a ballet choreographed by David Bintley and featuring music composed by Simon Jeffes, founder of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. It is also the title of the accompanying album. Geoffrey Richardson co-wrote one of the pieces.[1]

The ballet's debut production in 1988 was performed by The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, in England. The ballet was conceived by David Bintley (at that time resident choreographer at Covent Garden), who approached Simon Jeffes about the music that was to be used in the choreography. The music for the ballet was drawn from several musical pieces composed by Jeffes before the ballet was conceived, composed during the period 1981 to 1987. Most of the pieces were originally written for small ensembles, consisting of, for example, violin, cello, guitar and piano. Jeffes orchestrated the pieces for the ballet, and in the Royal Ballet production, they were performed by a full orchestra. The ballet was filmed in 1988 by Thames Television and commercially released. The name of the ballet is derived from that of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, which was Simon Jeffes' ensemble.

Ballet story[]

The pieces / sections in the ballet are:

  1. The Penguin Cafe (musical piece Air à Danser)
  2. Utah Longhorn Ram (musical piece Prelude and Yodel)
  3. Texan Kangaroo Rat (musical piece Long Distance, original title Horns of a Bull)
  4. Humboldt's Hog Nosed Skunk Flea (musical piece The Ecstasy of the Dancing Flea, original title Pythagoras's Trousers)
  5. Southern Cape Zebra (SCZ) (musical piece White Mischief)
  6. Rain Forest People (musical piece Now Nothing)
  7. Brazilian Woolly Monkey (musical piece Music By Numbers)
  8. Conclusion (musical piece Numbers 1–4)

Story line[]

The ballet begins with a voice-over (by Jeremy Irons) describing how the great auk was very recently made extinct by man. The initial segment is set in a cafe, and several humans and penguins dance. Each subsequent segment prior to the conclusion shows an endangered species (or, in the case of the Rain Forest People, a culture.) The conclusion shows all the characters withstanding a downpour, and gathering on an ark-like boat.

The overall theme of the ballet is pro-environment, pro-conservation. The ballet seeks to make the audience more aware of endangered species.

Production Details[]

From the 1988 production:


Recordings and publications[]

Both the Laser Disk and DVD contain a 50-minute documentary on the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.


The music for the ballet was released as an album, under Jeffes' name, together with an 18-minute suite called Four Pieces for Orchestra, comprising orchestral recordings of earlier PCO tracks:

  1. Perpetuum mobile
  2. Southern Jukebox Music
  3. Oscar Tango
  4. Music for a Found Harmonium


  1. ^ Roche, Henry, Still Life at the Penguin Cafe: Arranged for Piano by Henry Roche, Edition Peters, 2002

External links[]