Opera, dance, and music play together with great abandon at WTF 2014.
In an experimental ménage a trios between Opera Q Studio, Dancenorth, and accordion virtuoso James Crabb, came the creation Abandon; a hybrid piece very much open to interpretation.
Presented at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of WTF 2014, the piece Abandon was co-created by Lindy Hume (Opera Queensland Artistic Director), Raewyn Hill (Dancenorth), and James Crabb. The piece, as described in the program notes, aims to push “performance boundaries to create moments of catharsis and connection”.
The inspiration for Abandon came from the works of Baroque composer George Frideric Handel, with particular focus on the da capo aria format in which a three segments explore a single emotion. Abandon features five dancers, four singers, and two musicians and, much like the da capo aria, is a three part structure encompassing arias from the operas Tolomeo, Alcina, Orlando, Hercules, and the cantata Aci, Galatae e Polifeo.
The piece is more about emotional expression, with no through line or logical correlation from scene to scene. The co-creators explain that “its sequence is deliberately irrational, like a dream whose submerged meaning speaks to the dreamer alone”. This dream-like aesthetic was created both by the fluid choreography and the music, with Crabb on classical accordion and Teiji Hylkema on cello.
Abandon provides a unique space in which opera singers, dancers, and musicians share the stage. The musicians at times wandered through the set and at one point, chased away the performers with their music, rather a shark attacking a school of fish. There were also some comedic moments in which Crabb engaged in a stand-off duet between accordion player and dancer Brad Chatfield.
To meld the disciplines further, the singers sometimes joined with the dancers. Annie Lower was just mesmerising to watch, revealing a natural, or maybe trained, talent for dance, whilst continuing to sing opera. The positions that some of the singers found themselves in was fascinating, impressive, and a delightful shock to the senses. In contrast to the traditional stand and deliver operatic approach, there were moments when the artists were singing while lying on the floor, or being raised in the air, or even lying sideways across the shoulders of one of the dancers. And this whilst continuing to sing the demanding Handel arias.
Dancer Alice Hinde’s svelte frame, immaculate presentation and obvious talent, allowed her to execute the choreography with flawless beauty.
The seemingly minimalist set design by Bruce McKiven, with lighting by Bosco, was made up of ceiling high walls built out of cardboard boxes on three sides of the stage which served to enclose the performers. From time to time during the sixty minute piece, the boxes were pushed or pulled out of the walls, creating different formations, rather like a Tetris puzzle, allowing the performers to escape through the cracks, so to speak. The boxed wall was also used as a screen on which to project the libretto.
The costumes, created by fashion designer Alistair Trung, perfectly complimented this performance of dance, music and opera. They consisted of free flowing black and dark maroon pieces of material over a black mesh top.
Abandon succeeds in creating a unique hybrid piece of art which also challenges the conventional expectations of how an opera singer should perform. As creators Hume, Hill, and Crabb say, collaborating “on this adventure has challenged and extended each of us and reminded us daily of the heady, scary, thrilling potency and necessity of taking risks”.
Just a note, it would have been nice to see photos of the performers in the programme, not only so reviewers can comment on individual performances, but to help the audience identify their favourite artists and in turn help the artists’ raise their career profile.
Abandon played for a short season at the Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre 21-23 February. For more information on Opera Q Studios and Dancenorth, visit their website: operaq.com.au, dancenorth.com.au.