The madness of the past three weeks has passed and I’m settling back into normal organised chaos. I’ve been to Canada and brought my mother back to Holland with me. So far so good!
My trip to Canada was sandwiched between performances at a local beach festival, Solo’s @ the Sea (forgive the apparent grammatical error but the Dutch apostrophize their plurals). S@TS will be the topic of today’s post.
I was asked by a local dance company, De Dutch Don’t Dance Division, to perform a solo piece for their annual festival. DeDDDD is run by two awesome guys named Rinus and Thom. They are a super creative couple who produce and choreograph shows and festivals in The Hague. These were the guys who put on The Nutcracker at the Grote Kerk where I sang as the warm up act last Christmas (you can read about it here). The S@TS “festival” is a bit of a misnomer because it’s really like a dinner-theatre production, but instead of cheesy one-liners and Casio keyboards, there were eight soloists – mostly dancers – who performed for 10 minutes each.
As a singer (especially a classical singer) I was a bit intimidated when first asked to come up with 10 minutes of solo singing. What? No piano to lean on? SCARY! But actually, I was very excited by the challenge. I knew at once that it would be difficult to find the music so instead I worked on the character. What would I like to play? Who would I like to be? The point of having the solos on the beach was to try to incorporate the atmosphere and environment of the setting into the act. I therefore wanted to present a figure that was earthy and connected to the elements: perhaps a mother nature type of role or some sort of sea nymph. It took me a few weeks but I eventually started to think of an identity… my mind drifted to the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology and their connection with the natural world. I surfed Wikipedia (as the best researchers do) and stumbled upon the oracle.
My imagination took off. I saw myself as a character sitting up on a high perch, staring up to the heavens for answers and reaching down to humanity trying to make the god’s messages understood. All while thunder and lightning crackled overhead.
Here are some character sketch photos that I asked my photographer friend, Charlene to take:
From here I started to imagine how my character would be presented. If I wanted to be up high I needed a step-ladder. I still had the millions of meters of fabric left from The Snow Queen back in December, so I could wrap that around the ladder and my body to make it look like I was huge. Awesome. Of course the legs of the ladder would have to be stuck deep into the sand so the high winds off the North Sea wouldn’t send me flying to Greece like a great brown kite.
So that was the character and staging. Now what about the music? I really struggled with this. I found this video on You Tube of Pierrot Lunaire which is an amazingly wacky atonal vocal piece by Schoenberg:
The video even has a woman up high screaming her nut off. But Pierrot Lunaire wasn’t exactly what I was aiming for… Mainly because to do it I would require a backing orchestra. Which would defeat the purpose of the solo. Perhaps I could use a backing CD? But Schoenberg karaoke is a bit too out there. Even for me.
So something Pierrot-esque, but for solo voice. I asked my composer friend, Diego Soifer for advice. His music is quite lyrical and beautiful… probably too calm for what I was thinking. But I wondered if he could recommend something or someone with appropriate music? Perhaps something theatrical that could be interpreted as the rantings of a woman who heard voices from the gods? He put me on to his colleague, Teodora Stepancic, a fantastic composer of very experimental music.
My meeting with Teodora was so exciting. We quickly began discussing a piece that she had written for solo voice which was based on Passacalia by Biber. But she had added Hebrew text and lots of cool instruction like “Bend Backwards”, “Hit Chest”, “Press Diaphragm” and “Spin around as many times as you can”. This music went from shouting to screaming to singing all within a few bars… the spinning was a bit impossible on a step-ladder so we agreed that swaying back and forth would be ok. By the end of the meeting we were both high with anticipation. It took me a couple of weeks to learn her piece and adapt it for this show.
As for the Oracular fortune-telling part, throughout the 10 minutes of singing and swaying, I would occasionally stop and point directly at a member of the audience, fixing them with a piercing stare. He or she would then have to ask me a question that could be answered with “yes” or “no”.
Here are some photos from the finished product:
Addressing the gods.
YOU! Ask a question!
The voices are too loud from the heavens!
YOU! One last question!
The Oracle is now closed. Please come again!
It was amazing how the audience really got into the character. In fact I found this was the best part of the whole thing. Some people were actually terrified into sputtering silence – by little ol’ ME! Most others asked safe questions about the weather, “Will it be a nice summer?” or the World Cup, “Will Holland win?” But some audience members took their chance to ask very serious questions like, “Will I ever have children?”, “Will my dog make it to 12?”, and “Will I ever get married?” People even came up to me afterward and asked me the question they would have asked if they had been lucky enough to be pointed at. I told them to come back the next day and maybe they would get their chance to ask their question. Ha! So much fun!
Is this the last we’ll see of The Oracle? Yes or no?…