It’s not often that you get the chance to see an opera and a piece of contemporary dance all in one night, so get tickets while you can.
For the first time ever, Opera North will join forces with Phoenix Dance Theatre to put on an incredible night of music and movement. They’ll perform two of the greatest works of the twentieth century back-to-back, so you can expand your horizons with a serious culture injection. It begins with the raw intensity of The Rite of Spring, with all-new choreography, before you move on to the wildly funny Gianni Schicchi. They’re totally different, but perfectly in-tune – and they have a few surprises lined up for you.
You can do two bite-sized shows in one night
There might be two of ‘em, but this isn’t going to be a long, drawn-out night. Both performances are short and snappy, so you’ll be in and out in no time. You’ll have 35 mesmerising minutes of The Rite of Spring, with a quick break before you plough headfirst into the fast-paced comedy of Gianni Schicchi, which comes in at around 55 minutes.
You’ll hear two of the twentieth century’s greatest pieces of music
One may be dance and the other may be opera, but the music brings them together. These are two of the greatest works of the twentieth century and they’ll be played in their full glory by the Orchestra of Opera North.
This isn’t The Rite of Spring you know
The Rite of Spring is an iconic ballet that’s been passed down through the generations. When it first premiered in Paris in 1913, it was so controversial that it sparked riots in the crowds. The dancers couldn’t hear the orchestra, let alone the choreographer shouting the steps. Now, 106 years later, it’s a theatre staple performed all over the world, and for dance companies, it’s considered a rite of passage.
But while Phoenix Dance Theatre has taken inspiration from the original, they’ve completely reinvented it. Internationally-acclaimed Haitian-born choreographer Jeanguy Saintus has joined them to produce a contemporary interpretation of an age-old classic. Performed to the original score, with the same two movements, this modern production has all-new choreography and a whole new angle.
There is no sacrifice
Although The Rite of Spring is relatively abstract, each episode tells a story, and it all leads up to one final act – the sacrifice. At least in the original. In Jeanguy’s version, the sacrifice never happens as he’s rewritten the story and created a world where the ritual of asking for favours gives way to the celebration of favours granted.
It’s inspired by Jeanguy’s Haitian heritage
When Jeanguy first saw The Rite of Spring in the early nineties, it was Maurice Bejart’s version for Deutsche Oper Ballet, and it took him back to his home in Haiti. Here, where they practice voodoo, the chosen ones are priestesses, not sacrifices.
Mambos, as they’re known, are the bridge between the physical and the spiritual worlds – they help the community to connect with the Iwa, spirits who act as intermediaries between us and Bondye, the Supreme Creator. Each spirit has its own distinct personality, something you’ll come to discover as you follow the chosen ones on their journey to initiation.
The audience has its own role to play
When it was first created, The Rite of Spring shocked audiences, but Jeanguy has created a very different experience. It’s just as experimental, just as groundbreaking, but instead of jarring with the audience, it draws you in and makes you part of the action. As Jeanguy explores the connection between the physical and the spirit world, you’ll become an unseen spectator, as welcome and wanted as the spirits themselves.
“What’s really beautiful about this is that it almost feels as though you’re a silent visitor to the ceremony, you could almost be a spirit watching it happen,” Sharon Watson, Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre, told us. In that sense, you become both a physical and a spiritual presence, bringing Jeanguy’s vision to life.
It’s different to anything you’ve seen before
Saintus has put his own unique twist on The Rite of Spring, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the movement itself. It’s distinctively different, tinged with Caribbean influences that bring the story to life, and for the audience, that makes it unlike anything you’ve seen before.
“Stylistically, it’s different. The line of the body of the dancers becomes different, the articulation of the arms and the fingers, the hands become significant,” Sharon explained. “When you see that within the context of the choreography, you begin to understand, so it doesn’t necessarily take a lot for you to capture that something is different.”
It’s rare to see Phoenix Dance Theatre perform with a live orchestra
Ballet companies often perform with a live orchestra at every show, but for a company the size of Phoenix Dance Theatre, it’s a rarity, so this is a unique opportunity to see the dancers at their very best, as the music explodes around them. The hugely talented Orchestra of Opera North will be playing Igor Stravinsky’s original score, which is now seen as one of the most influential scores of the 20th century.
The Rite of Spring was unlike anything that came before it
It’s not sentimental, it’s raw and primitive, like nature itself, and it brings the world to life in vivid detail. This is the kind of music you can lose yourself in, don’t fight it, don’t question it, just let it wash over you.
“The rhythms of The Rite of Spring are so elemental, at the end, you just have to dance to it, it’s almost hypnotic. It’s a masterpiece. For anyone who’s concerned with not understanding – just immerse yourself, just dive in. Leave your preconceptions and your worries at the door and just dive in,” Conductor, Garry Walker urged.
It’s completely open to interpretation
The beauty of contemporary dance is that it is what you make of it. It’s not just entertainment, it’s designed to make you think, to make you question what you’ve seen and create your own interpretation. The set is minimalist, so you can let your imagination run free, with only the dancers, the lighting and the space to guide the way.
Gianni Schicchi is Puccini’s only outright comedy – and boy does it pack a punch
At first glance, Gianni Schicchi looks like a tragedy, but as always, appearances can be deceiving. Buoso Donati is dead, but those ‘grief-stricken’ mourners are more interested in his fortune than his death – and they’re not going to be happy, because he’s left it all to the local monastery.
A cunning plot is formed to change their fate – they hide the body and bring in famous conman Gianni Schicchi to take his place. Once installed in Donati’s death bed, he can change his will and give the money to its rightful (or wrongful) owners. But it’s a risky business, they’re all breaking the law, and can you ever really trust a conman?
It’s a hilarious modern comedy (written over a hundred years ago)
The world has changed a lot in the last hundred years, but the fundamental flaws of the human race are just the same – and just as entertaining, which is why Gianni Schicchi works so well today. It’s an age-old tale of greed, avarice and envy, told in hilarious fashion, and Opera North has brought it bang up to date by setting it in modern Italy. Expect mobile phones, tablets and headphones in a story that transcends time.
But it’s also a love story
Behind the greed and the deceit, there’s another story at play – and it’s a love story. Gianni Schicchi’s daughter is in love with Rinuccio, but his family disapprove of her – he was hoping that his inheritance would win them over, but when that plan fails, he has to rely on Schicchi to change his fate. Will the lovers ever get their way? You’ll have to watch it to find out.
Richard Burkhard has to transform his voice to play Buoso Donati
You’d expect an opera singer to sound the same no matter what role they’re playing, but that’s not always the case. In this particular opera, Richard Burkhard has to change his voice half way through when he transforms himself from Gianni Schicchi into Buoso Donati. “I get to play the dead man, the dying man, for about half the opera, so the challenge for me is to change my voice to sound like a dying man,” Richard told us.
The music is beautiful, unusual and utterly unlike Puccini
When you think of Puccini, you think of the greats, you think of Madama Butterfly and Tosca, but Gianni Schicchi is a whole different beast. Puccini was experimenting, he was moving away from traditional models and looking for new ways to entertain audiences, so expect less solo arias and more ensemble pieces.
“For me, it’s the music that is the most surprising thing,” Richard explained. “It’s strange, chromatic, dissonant and really quite modern in places. Puccini was at the end of his career, he’s had so much success with his style of opera, he was playing around with the form and with his musical language. It’s really amazing, when I first heard it, I couldn’t believe it was Puccini. It’s the most wonderful, weird music.”
But you’ll still know the songs
‘O mio babbino caro’ is one of the most famous songs in the world, so even if you’ve never been to the opera, you’ve probably already heard it. This wonderful, sweeping melody will knock you off your feet and get stuck in your head for days to come.
It may be an opera, but it has incredible aerial stunts
One of the most surprising aspects of Gianni Schicchi comes in the form of Tim Claydon, a classically trained dancer with a flair for aerial and trapeze work. He’s taking on the role of Dante, whose inferno inspired the opera, and you’ll see him appear in the most unexpected ways. It’s a rich, dynamic and utterly mesmerising addition to the show.
There’s a donkey hanging upside down from the ceiling
You read that right, there’s a donkey hanging from the ceiling, and yes, it’s upside down. It’s a surreal sight in the centre of a pared back, practical set that has more than a few surprises in store – like a rotating bed and a wall you climb to the balcony above (even in platforms, as it turns out). Expect an ingenious show that makes full use of the space and always keeps you on your toes.
The Rite of Spring and Gianni Schicchi come to Leeds Grand Theatre from Saturday 16th February to Saturday 2nd March 2019.