dance opera for 3 vocalists, 2 dancers & chamber ensemble [50’] 2017
counter-tenor, baritone, Carnatic vocalist, flute, clarinet, percussion, portative organ, hurdy-gurdy, violin & cello
Premiere: Toronto Masque Theatre, Crow’s Theatre, Toronto, March 10-11, 2017
Librettist: Anna Chatterton
Commissioner: Toronto Masque Theatre
Funders: Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts
Production: choreographer Hari Krishnan, director Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, conductor Larry Beckwith, set & costume design Rex, lighting Gabriel Cropley
Featuring: Scott Belluz (counter-tenor), Alex Samaras (baritone) & Subhiksha Rangarajan; Jelani Ade-Lam & Sze-Yang Ade-Lam (dancers)
Unwilling to marry a woman, a man fashions a lover from his own left side. He’s enraptured by her perfect beauty – a mirror of his own – until he discovers that this new woman longs for freedom and wildly desires another.
South Asian and Baroque music and performance traditions meet in a new masque based on a traditional Indian folk tale (from A.K. Ramanujan’s A Flowering Tree). A powerful & timely allegory of the female and male warring within, told through music, words and movement.
Just when you think you’ve grasped it, the story slithers away like a snake — that’s what keeps me fascinated. What seems like a familiar “woman born of man” creation story gets a feminist twist: the Newborn Woman outfoxes the Prince and heads off into a blissful future of new lovers. The tale comes from Karnataka in South India, where elements of matriarchal culture still play out in family structures. It’s not a myth, but a folk tale handed down from one generation of women to the next. It could be understood perhaps as a story of consolation for women enduring the hardships of life in a man’s world.
On a more personal note, the tale suggests the need to find a balance between what we might understand as the masculine and the feminine within each of us — to seek a more nuanced understanding of gender. The Prince locks up and limits the Newborn Woman — the Other — keeping what is different at a suspicious distance. In contrast, the Lover and the Newborn Woman fall in love through a gentle process of listening and exchange. The Lover uses imagination to understand what the Newborn Woman is telling him. Unlike The Prince, who imposes an idealized femininity onto the Woman, the Lover listens, waits and understands. Openness to difference and generosity of imagination transform our encounters with “the Other”, both within our selves and in the wider world.
Image: Sze-Yang Ade-Lam & Jelani Ade-Lam (photo by Kakumi Mori)