Ted Littlemore, in Orfeo ed Euridice, the research for which will be presented by Idan Cohen and Ne. Sans on May 13 at the Dance Centre. (photo by Ted Littlemore)
A relatively recent arrival in Vancouver, Israeli choreographer and opera director Idan Cohen is already making his mark. On May 13 – with the support of the Dance Centre, Arts Umbrella and Vancouver Academy of Music – Cohen and Ne. Sans will present Orfeo ed Euridice, a glimpse into Cohen’s reenvisioning of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera.
The myth of Orpheus is a story of love. Poet and musician Orfeo mourns the death of his wife, Euridice, and he determines to get her back from Hades. With the intervention of Amor (Cupid), the god of love, Orfeo heads into the Underworld, gaining entry by winning over the Furies with his music, and he is reunited with his wife. However, Amor has set a condition – Orfeo must not look at Euridice, or explain why he is not doing so, until the two are back on earth. It’s a condition Orfeo breaks when Euridice begins to doubt his love and begs for a glance to assure her. When he gives in, Euridice dies again and Orfeo, grief-stricken, resolves to kill himself so that he can be with her. In the face of such love, Amor intervenes once more, to save both Euridice and Orfeo, and return them to earth.
“This opera was created in 1762 and, for me, a significant part of directing a classic opera is the studying of the values that originally inspired the music and the performance,” Cohen told the Independent. “Looking at concepts of novelty and tradition and respecting those as the DNA of this creation was quite valuable in my creative process. At the same time, those are values that are violent, discriminative and often quite outdated. One clear example that I personally find fascinating is the fact that Orfeo ed Euridice was originally written to be performed by a male castrato. Nowadays, it is often performed by a female mezzo-soprano or a male singer singing in a falsetto technique, but, for me, the history of the castrato and the violence that history entails against the human body is an example of difficult questions and issues that are a part of the time this opera was created in.
“It is even more fascinating and relevant,” Cohen added, “since the mythological story of Orpheus presents to us a musician and a poet who had the ability to enchant all living creatures through his musical gift. Orpheus’s strength was art and, hence, he is the ultimate representation of art and the artist. So, in Orfeo, these values can be represented in the most honest, vulnerable way, exposing their inner human truth and the limits through which we define and accept artistic beauty.”
Cohen grew up in Kibbutz Mizra in the north of Israel, but lived in Tel Aviv for 10 years before coming to Vancouver with his partner about a year ago. “When we got here, I completely fell in love with the city, the nature, the people,” said Cohen.
“Besides the personal reasons that brought me here,” he said, “I’m finding Vancouver’s arts scene most inspiring, and the city was very welcoming to me. I’ve received this wonderful DanceLab residency at the Dance Centre, I have been creating for Arts Umbrella’s pre-professional program, led by Lesley Telford, and with Modus Operandi, directed by David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen. These great artists invited me to teach and create when I just got here, and I immediately felt at home.
“Also, for the past years, I have been interested in directing opera through dance and movement … [and] there is so much going on in the city both in opera and in dance – I feel I have something to contribute to this city’s rich arts scene by fusing the two. Historically, they do belong together.”
As well, said Cohen, “living in Vancouver makes traveling so much easier and, when you travel often, this can be very convenient and helpful. This June, I will present at the Seattle International Dance Festival with Ne. Sans, my new Vancouver-based society, and, on the following day, will catch a flight to go to Sydney to present work in Sydney and Newcastle.”
According to Cohen’s website, Ne. Sans “is a home for the research and creation of work that seeks to deepen and reconnect opera and dance.” And this melding “opens a whole new world of collaborative opportunities: a space that involves working with singers, dancers, musicians, visual artists and designers.”
“Directing an opera like Orfeo ed Euridice through dance is a huge task that requires a tremendous amount of preparation,” said Cohen. “This opera was created 256 years ago, but has kept its immortality through its beautiful music and a story so rich, layered and full of depth.”
As he enjoys exploring operas with dancers in the studio – “It’s a great way to get intimate with the music, through the body” – Cohen said, “I’ve started this process by creating a 20-minute duet that was inspired by Orfeo ed Euridice, using parts of Gluck’s music and the main ideas behind the story, and translating those to pure dance. The dramaturgy of that dance piece was inspired by the opera and its libretto [by Ranieri De’ Calzabigi]…. But, looking at it closely and breaking it apart in the studio presented an opportunity to create a more abstract version of the story, in dance form. Fortunately, it was very well-received and won an award from the Be’er Sheva Fringe Festival, in Israel’s Negev.”
The presentation at the Dance Centre “will be performed by 18 singers from VAM [Vancouver Academy of Music] Schola Cantorum chorus, conducted by Kathleen Allan; six dancers from Arts Umbrella’s pre-professional program; two amazing dancers/musicians, Ted Littlemore and Jeremy O’Neil; and mezzo Debi Wong [director of re:Naissance opera company]. It’s a rather big cast for what I’m hoping will be an honest, pretty direct sharing of the research and ideas that will then be transformed into the ‘real deal,’ the full opera production.”
The Orfeo ed Euridice presentation is open to the public and is free of charge. It takes place in the Dance Centre’s Faris Family Studio May 13, 3 p.m. RSVP to [email protected] to reserve a seat.