How to stage a world? – The Brooklyn train

Opera singer

Brooklyn Academy of Music
Sun & Sea
September 15 – 26, 2021

A woman in a swimsuit is lying on a lilac towel with her feet on a beach ball printed like a globe. As her legs swing lazily, the world below them spins and cracks in the sand.

It is Sun & Sea, something between opera and performance art, imagined by the self-proclaimed “three-headed dragon” of Vaiva Grainytė (writer), Lina Lapelytė (composer) and Rugilė Barzd ?? iukaitė (scenographer). After winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and performing all over Europe, he has just started his first tour of the United States at BAM.

At each iteration, the space is oriented in the same way. The audience enters an upper balcony that surrounds a stage below, where we watch a beach. Sand covers the entire ground, stretching out in all directions below us, as if our sight is just a small slice of a larger expanse.

With that, people sunbathe, leaf through books, rock their smartphones, knit, apply sunscreen, teach each other mahjong. A man in pink shorts paces the phone, perhaps taking a call at work. Children play badminton on bathers, throw tantrums and throw sand. The dogs pant, restless. A man gets up, scratches his back and spreads his arms, eyes closed, as if to bask in the hot sun.

Throughout, the music plays, consisting of a soft piano and synthesized organ, a sort of muted lyrical pop that varies in rhythm while maintaining an unwavering lightness and breeze. Sometimes the whole choir sings, sometimes it’s just a solo. With singers wearing hidden microphones, at no point is the change in who sings on a visual level. All activity continues blindly, unperturbed, as if, as in a film, the music were superimposed indifferent to the action. When a soloist begins, the heads of the audience all turn as we collectively scan the beach to decipher who is singing.

Among the overflow of daily activity, tiny details emerge. Sushi not eaten atop a Vietnamese travel guide is forgotten by the woman with designer jewelry. Her toes curl on her lounge chair as she proudly sings about how her son will swim in all the world’s oceans. Another bather, with a crisp tan and shimmering eyeliner – like a tourist from a Martin Parr photograph – melodically complains about a recent snowless winter. A third dream in a soprano whistling jellyfish and plastic bags dancing together (“Oh the sea has never been so colorful!”). Everywhere the heat of a warming planet shines incessantly.

On the audience’s balcony, the air grows hot from the incessant lights of the stage, as the rhythm below continues, oblivious to rising sea levels or impending natural disasters to which the lyrics beckon in such a way. playful. During the five-hour performance, where audience members arrive and depart at frequent intervals, the 60-minute score is seamlessly looped, simulating an endless sunny day. .

As we watch from the balcony, the experience of the audience is no different from that of watching people. This choreographic use of daily movement, the breadth and range of activities across the beach, their semi-improvised nature and seemingly random arrangement, is what creates the appearance of a real crowd. The everyday gesture has found its place in dance since the band Judson and minimalist dancers in downtown New York in the ’60s. Sun & Sea builds on Yvonne Rainer’s remark that ‘the dancing is hard to see’, mixing the daily actions of the crowd so evenly across the vast sandy stage, that, not knowing quite where to turn our attention, our gaze feels grounded and dazed.

Corn Sun & Seathe choreography of his chorus draws inspiration from long earlier historical precedents. In the classical Greek choir, made up of both dance and song, ordinary citizens (young men of military age) were called upon to form the choir, much as we take part in the jury function today. In this sense, the city saw itself directly represented on stage, embodied by the members of the choir. In Sun & Sea, the 13 singers who tour with the production are accompanied on stage by a cohort of “extras” from the local community who make up the rest of the beach lovers. Without visible distinction between singer and extra (apart from the “hidden” microphones), Sun & Sea actively integrates the local population into its choreographic structure to stage a kind of mirror to its audience. A rusty green trash can is identical to those found on New York beaches. (Directors always inspect the nearby coast before arriving at each new performance site.) Yet as the Greek choir responded to the pathos of the unfolding tragedy, Sun & SeaUndeterred beach activities seem oblivious to the impending weather disaster.

This task of reflecting society on stage was also taken up in the choreography of classical and romantic opera. Canonical works like that of Bizet Carmen, Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, or Puccini Bohemian, contain full scenes orchestrated precisely to administer the feeling that an entire city is contained on stage. The two Sun & Sea and the staging of traditional operas bring together a variety of bodies, ages, living animals and children in an attempt to ward off a sprawling array of social strata, a reflection of the contemporary world. Just like on the stage of classical opera, the choir of Sun & Sea providing speech and laughter sounds that overlap with the music to create a dense cacophony.

In the opening scene of Carmen, for example, the mixture of genres, races and social classes (at the center of the opera’s plot) in Seville is animated by a choir made up of various “types” (Romans, soldiers, children, etc.) who are choreographed to interact together within a larger crowd, scrolling through a miniature model of the diversity of public life. Contemporary and traditional staging often achieve this choreographically using a healthy mix of everyday movements that generate a feeling of frenetic and mundane crowding. Likewise, in Sun & Sea, the directors can manage this microcosm from the balcony, send text messages to the performers (via their phones) to evenly distribute the bodies on stage or adjust their activities (swap the card games for badminton), to maintain this delicate simulation of chaos balance.

The difficulty encountered in organizing crowds under a proscenium arch is that they are disappointing at eye level; our gaze can only be on the bodies closest to us. Multi-level stages or sets and balconies are frequently used in opera productions to allow the choirs to be dispersed vertically, which is crucial in generating the impression of clutter. Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 production of Bohemian, still in the Met’s repertoire, arranges some 250 performers in the famous Café Momus street scene by dividing the street into two levels with a flight of steps in between. However, Sun & SeaThe rotating staging arrangement of, so we now despise performers, addresses this spectator problem unusually perfectly. Plus, rather than peering at the tops of heads, the beach scenery, with its inhabitants sunbathing, rotates the performers’ bodies upward so we can access their faces and expressions. Sun & Sea also differs from the typical construction of the opera house by emphasizing the activity of the choir. What are often fleeting little moments of daily choreography, deployed to create the backdrop for traditional opera, are now expanded to encompass the entire performance.

Yes Sun & Sea follows its formal tradition of staging a kind of social world, the question follows: what kind of world is it? Although at first glance the beach is buzzing with activity, over time the different figures slowly appear more distinct. Alone on individual towels, like drifting islands in the sand, bathers don’t look at each other as long as they stare at us. A young child slowly builds a small town of sand castles. Arranged in neat little rows, each is topped with a solitary shell.