CELIA IPIOTIS SPEAKS WITH CATHERINE TUROCY: BAROQUE OPERA
On May 9, the ornate El Museo del Barrio theater will host two highly anticipated one-act Baroque opera-ballets: Pierre de La Garde's lyrical "Leandre et Hero" and Jean Philippe Rameau's comedic "Io."
Written in the mid 18th century, Catherine Turocy, one of the foremost dancers, choreographers, directors and authorities on the reconstruction of Baroque Dance paused for a few minutes to express her excitement about a project that includes a world premier and contemporary refashioning of two nearly 300 year old operas.
CI: Clearly, this project is a breathless undertaking by Opera Lafayette which includes the participation of your historical NY Baroque Dance Company, founded and directed by you and Ann Jacoby, the contemporary Sean Curran Company, Stage Director Nick Olcott, Music Director Avi Stein, Artistic Director Ryan Brown and Costume Designer Machine Dazzle(best known for his design collaborations with cabaret artist Taylor Mac).
CI: For people who know little about Baroque operas, what makes these two operas enticing entertainment?
CT: The mash up of contemporary and historical dance is a wonderful pairing. In Sean's dancers one sees a physical and visceral response to the music as well as a clear character study on water as the sea. It is a modern concept of the stage director to put them in the role of the sea. Leandre swims between his island and Hero’s island. He dies in a sea storm and she throws herself in the sea after he perishes. Sean’s dancers are the answer…or the stage director could have asked for a stage sea machine. For my dancers, a Fragonard painting comes alive, telling the story of conflict in love and relating to the rhythmic nuances of the musical gestures.
The costumes for Sean's dancers are unitards and allow for interesting floor work in the choreography. The Baroque dancers are dressed in typical shepherd and shepherdess costumes more reminiscent of Jean Jacque Rousseau's return to nature. However, the Triton characters sport the classical men's tonnelet with golden capes, seaweed and coral. They both carry Tridents and dance in the noble style which is closer to ballet as we know it today.
CI: Did the word "opera" mean the same in Baroque times as now?
CT: There were many genres of opera in the 18th Century. "Leandre et Hero" is an opera-ballet from 1751. There is as much vocal music as dance so the story telling is divided and told by both arts. What one cannot say in words is danced and vice versa.
Baroque opera is defined by the librettist. The text and meaning of the poetry was the message and most important. The composer in the printed program was most frequently listed second. The beauty of the meaning of the text, as illustrated dramatically in the music and told through expressive gestures, attitudes and dance -- are all clothed in metaphorical costumes in the context of a magical set with scene changes and machines. This was the ultimate art.
CI: If there's scant information on an opera, how do you go about reconstructing the steps?
CT:There is a dance notation from the 18th century, published by Raoul Anger Feuillet in 1700 in Paris, which has been revived and reveals much about the step vocabulary and style. Studying the other visual arts such as painting, sculpture, prints and also studying geometry and architecture helps the choreographer to create a poetic and visual style within which to work. Sean Curran's company reflects his background on post modern dance and Irish step dance. CI:How do they fit into the Baroque equation?
CT:Baroque dance shares some of the same footwork of Irish dancing and this is where Curran and Baroque meet, rhythmic musicality.
CI: How tricky is it to slip contemporary dance forms into Baroque music structures?
CT: Tricky! But Sean hears the shape of the music and its expressive gestures. He also knows how to think in the shorter phrases of the dance music which are akin to the structures of traditional folk music.
CI: What did you find most exciting/challenging/fun -- take your pick--about working on this production.
CT: Not to be too obvious, but working with both companies of dancers has been pure joy. Working with Sean has been working and collaborating on a higher level. Two opposites come together to create a new version of a classical aesthetic meaningful to today.