Friday, May 27, 2011

and some big big news...

which i can in any way reveal yet...sorry! but by this time next week, watch out!

a date with nikos

these past three days i've been in brainstorming sessions for "aureliano in palmira" with choreographer nikos lagousakos. the concept for this production deals with the repercussions choices, choices of power over personal, love over greater good. in particular it will deal with the modern socio-political crisis in the mid-east, especially syria, and how the areas colonial and native past led and continues to lead to its present. we're doing this with the addition of a danced character, the older version of our central zenobia, looking back and judging her own most pivotal choice. the chorus then, which already has an enhanced role in this opera compared to rossini's other operas, become a greek chorus, the tool of zenobia's own self-trial. nikos will be working with both the dancer luis frank and our chorus to develope a physical language. our sessions have been intense, mapping out the entire production, and exciting.

my great love is movement in space, the body in motion. i'm not trained in any way as a dancer, but i see the physical body on stage as an instrument of expression. my style of directing has long incorporated a stylized use of gesture, rejecting naturalism at moments to opt for physical expression. i'm over the moon to now have a dancer to work with to refine this language and find new ways to connect it with narrative.

Monday, May 23, 2011

yipee a triumph

dido and aeneas opened this past weekend in rotterdam. it was great fun with a wonderful group of artists. i have to say that the show looked beautiful, much because of my incredible lighting designer marc heinz. we were really able to create something that felt simple, sparse, empty, and yet was very full in sensitivity and beauty. also my incredible assistant alison wong allowed for a level of detail the production has never had before. i was very proud. and we got a wonderful review in the volkskrant today! here it is:

The Rotterdam Operadagen Festival began with an exceptionally successful Dido and Aeneas. On the Theater Square, a giant apple refers to the forbidden fruit - and with a small jump - paradise lost, the theme of the festival. Within the confines of the theater the motto is shaped of Henry Purcell's opera about heroes who conquer the world but ultimately prove to be only men, in all their vulnerability.

In the room of the royal widow, Dido sits under a single light. Anonymous men and women walk mechanically back and forth across the stage, putting chairs down and picking them up again as an infinite repetition of a liveliness which has lost all meaning in light of Dido's sorrow. A dead tree stump is the only decoration in the sober image. Subtly, it is featured alongside Dido, as a finished companion. The queen has her mantle exchanged for a robe. At a kitchen table, she sits quietly suffering.

The American designer and director Timothy Nelson brings the show close to the public. From the audience you can see the musicians of the Flemish ensemble Scherzi Musicali, the gamba, recorder and theorbo, playing. You can almost touch Rosanne van Sandwijk (Dido) and Olivier Berten (Aeneas). Nelson's merit is that he does not let the drama choke on one dimensional grief. Anno 2011 Dido swigs her antidepressants like Russians their vodka. After use, she throws the bottle over her shoulder. As Aeneas, her adored hero, enters in a dull gray suit, the contrast between Dido's text and his appearance works to be somewhat laughable.

The 17th-century Purcell, as a psychologist avant la lettre, meticulously recorded the various voices in the head of a woman who, after losing her loved one, sinks into her grief, which also has a dark side. Musical director Nicolas Achten has enough shades with a chorus of four voices and a small ensemble to provide warm weathered colors.

Rosanne van Sandwijk sets Dido's suffering subtly, with small gestures and nuances in a voice that seeks out her role nicely. Her dark side is a bit under emphasized, but the end is crushingly beautiful. Dido lets her robe slip from her shoulders and vulnerably sings her lamentation barefoot in a white shirt. Slowly she steps off the stage and walks into the hall. Down the aisle she disappears and dissolves into nothingness.

Monday, May 16, 2011

in the sky

i had hoped to write often about my experience here at coaa, but it just hasn't happened. the days have been extremely long (about 9am to 11pm) and full of diverse activities...coaching, lecturing, masterclasses, directing, and teaching directing. i have to say this last part has been incredibly rewarding. i don't know of a single other program for young directors like this, where not only are they given large scenes to direct, but where they get to come together several times a week, in a socratic kind of atmosphere, and learn how to direct better. i'm very proud of this aspect of the program, and look forward to growing it in the future. the scenes themselves have been rewarding also, some in particular: pelleas (a warm up to my own much longer version later this month at the Opera Aan Zee festival) is stunning music with staging of pointed simplicity, deadman walking and jephtha are intensely acted by these young singers, and the salve regina is tremendously powerful. there is still another week to go, but i'm off tonight to rotterdam where i have a production of dido and aeneas opening this friday. on the move....

Friday, May 6, 2011

live men walking

i'm sitting here at the end of the first week of coaa watching the students participate in some dramatic exercises with our guest drama coach jack. they are walking, normally, with varied tempi, sometimes following, sometimes changing directions, being public...and having a hard time of it. strange how the most normal things in life are the hardest to recreate on the stage. i find watching classes like this fascinating because it is so foreign to me, and to the way i understand and communicate, and yet we aim toward the same goal with these motives. now jack has them with closed eyes trying to remember details about how other members of the groups are dressed. i would fail this miserably because i'm so in my head. which is exactly the way i direct, trying to get into their heads and getting them to answer questions, ask question, divine and define motivations. neat how many path can lead to the same oasis.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

dead men walking

where opera meets life, hard ugly devastating and hopeful life, that is where i want to live. i'm in the midst of preparing scenes for coaa, and i have nine big ones, and one is the sextet from "dead man walking". it has led me on a really journey today. it is a difficult scene because one must, absolutely so, avoid the temptation to take a side - the scene is so terribly omni-dimensional. and, that is how the issue of the death penalty is. everytime i feel on one side of the issue, i suddenly realize with a pang of great sorrow that i've forgotten the other side. and always in the back of my mind is "what would i do", and i have no idea. its that ambiguity i want to capture in the scene. and this ambiguity:

i have a dear friend that's mother was violently assaulted sexually, and murdered in unspeakable terror. the man is sentenced to die. and this friend will make the trip to beg for his life. her sister will make the trip to beg for his death. the ambiguity of that family dynamic, and even more the inner complexity of a woman losing the source of her life in that way and still wanting the thief that took it away's life....its that, for me unimaginable in a real way, complexity i hope to capture in this scene.