“Magic” chamber dance opera Hagoromo premieres in sold-out run at BAM

Hagoromo world premiere

Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

American Opera Project’s high-profile production Hagoromo combined dazzling new-opera, dance, puppetry, and fashion, for its sold-out World Premiere run this November at the BAM Harvey Theatre as part of BAM’s 2015 Next Wave Festival. In this dance-opera, an angel’s cloak falls to earth where a fisherman claims it. The angel performs her heavenly dance to reclaim her cloak and return to the heavens.

The multi-genre collaboration began after flutist Claire Chase, director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) which appeared in Hagoromo, asked David Michalek to choreograph her solo recital.  “Then she suggested that they try something bigger. The germ of an idea was born,” Marina Harss explained in The New York Times. The music for Hagoromo was composed by ICE member Nathan Davis, with a libretto by Brendan Pelsue, commissioned by AOP. The vocalists for the new-opera were Katalin Karolyi, singing for the angel, and Peter Tantsits, who was the voice of the fisherman. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus was also featured in the ensemble, aiding plot development and commentary.

Apollinaire Scherr commended David Michalek‘s work in the Financial Times writing he “…has seamlessly integrated the worlds of experimental music, dance, theatre, opera, puppetry and fashion into a rich, sober whole.” David Michalek, known for his beautiful film work, bravely made his directing debut with the multi-genre Hagoromo, in collaboration with Bessie-award winning choreographer David Neumann.

Two of their performers were prior New York City ballet stars Wendy Whelan, and Jock Soto. Christina Pandolfi for Broadway World hailed Hagoromo “[A] multi-medium artistic portrait” which demonstrated “the sheer excellence of Whelan and Soto’s capacity for movement.”  Wendy Whelan‘s final heavenly dance cast a spell on the audience, with Alastair Macaulay with The New York Times elating “[Whelan] tips her torso strangely sideways, opens her palms quietly to the audience, or turns her head to regard Mr. Soto, we feel her magic.”

Wendy dancing

Photograph by Ioulex for The New Yorker

Two stars making their debut on the BAM Harvey Stage were the puppets which accompanied Wendy Whelan‘s final, spell-binding, dance. They seemed almost human to Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn who wrote a review for Bachtrack. “The puppets “seemed to carry something essential of [Whelan’s] spirit when they moved with her synchronously. The power of those two puppets was such that I quickly forgot about the three black-clad and veiled operators that were required to make each of them dance.”

Arts Journal‘s Deborah Jowitt praised the creative team that “have together created moments of considerable beauty and imagination” including the “wonderfully effective” puppeteers and the “impressive” music of Nathan Davis that carried the dance of the “sensual” Soto and Whelan who “enters as smoothly as quiet water, extending one long leg and beautifully arched foot in a way that recalls Balanchine’s wish that a dancer should make her legs as flexible as an elephant’s trunk.”

“The results of this unusual collaboration were visually arresting, musically adventurous, dramatically taut, and choreographically appealing,” exclaimed Alexandra Ivanoff for the international news outlet Today’s Zaman. “Michalek’s clever use of stylistic features borrowed from the Noh theatre tradition matched up with Davis’ imaginative and programmatic palette of live sounds, both accompanimental and soloistic, generated the tricky energy flow needed to animate an essentially slow-motion visual life.” Ivanoff went on to praise soloists Tantsits and Karolyi who “employed their freakishly wide vocal ranges with both power and supreme subtlety throughout. The 20 girls of the youth chorus were astounding in their execution of a difficult score.”

Whelan and Soto dance in costumes by Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

Whelan and Soto dance in costumes by Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

Although the costumes were relatively simple, it was important that the angel’s cloak be as beautiful as possible. Vogue writer Kate Guadagnino observed “Naturally, a work whose plot hinges on an article of clothing also required an adept costume designer, and Michalek asked none other than Dries Van Noten.” The cloak was indeed heavenly. The gold, transparent, reflective material was all at once powerful, and luxurious.

Just as the fisherman gets a glimpse of heaven, so is the audience touched by an ethereal production. George Grella writes for NY Classical Review, “It’s a multimedia work that eschews the commonplace of video. Everything is live: music, dance, singing, narration, and puppetry. When all the elements are working at the same, high level, Hagoromo is magic, but there are also prosaic details and stretches that keep it earth-bound.”

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