In this delightful interview, celebrated choreographer Karole Armitage discloses how she thought about choreographing the movements for each character in Death and the Powers, including the operabots. You’ll gain an appreciation for how she makes each personality vivid and convincing through movement. We include new footage of the Prelude and Nicholas (Hal Cazalet) cavorting with operabots, revealing dancing skills that Karole likens to another singer-dancer with whom she has worked: Michael Jackson.
Choreographer Karole Armitage’s role in Death and the Powers was to create the human and technologic gestures and movements that would embody the story and emotion of the opera. Although Karole has worked with as diverse a range of performers as any choreographer – from elite classical ballet dancers to pop stars like Madonna and Michael Jackson – in Death and the Powers she faced entirely new challenges. Of course, opera singers cannot always be counted on to possess dancer-like physicality, but what about robots, moving walls and a futuristic chandelier resembling a huge, metallic jellyfish? Karole had to first figure out their capabilities and then invent movements that would enable these machines to interact convincingly and beautifully with the human performers.
Here is a sequence for the robot ensemble from the Prologue of Death and the Powers:
And here is a terrific interview (previously posted) in which Karole speaks about her approach with each of the characters in Death and the Powers:
About the Artist
Karole Armitage was rigorously trained in classical ballet and began her professional career in 1973 as a member of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, a company devoted exclusively to the repertory of George Balanchine. In 1976, she was invited to join Merce Cunningham’s company where she remained for five years, performing leading roles in Cunningham’s landmark works. Through her unique and acute knowledge of the aesthetic values of Balanchine and Cunningham, Armitage has created her own “voice” in the dichotomy of classical and modern and is seen is by some critics as the true choreographic heir to the two masters of twentieth-century American dance.
Known as the “punk ballerina,” Armitage created her first piece in 1978, followed by the iconic Drastic-Classicism in 1981. Throughout the 80s she led her own New York-based dance company, Armitage Ballet. Following the premiere of The Watteau Duets at Dance Theater Workshop, Mikhail Baryshnikov invited her to create a work for American Ballet Theatre, and Rudolph Nureyev commissioned a work for the Paris Opera Ballet. Subsequently, she continued to work both in Europe and the US until 1996 when she was appointed Director of MaggioDanza in Florence, Italy. From 1999 to 2004 she was the resident choreographer of the Ballet de Lorraine in France and in 2005, served as the Director of the Venice Biennale Festival of Contemporary Dance. (Her work continues to tour throughout the Continent, performed by several European companies.) In 2004, her company made its debut at the Joyce Theatre and Jennifer Dunning of the New York Times wrote, “Karole Armitage’s Time is the echo of an axe within a wood…is one of the most beautiful dances to be seen in New York in a very long time.” After this successful season at the Joyce, Armitage’s focus shifted more to her New-York based company.
Armitage is renowned for pushing the boundaries to create contemporary works that blend dance, music and art. Inspired by disparate, non-narrative sources, from twentieth-century physics, to sixteenth-century Florentine fashion, to pop culture and new media, in her hands, the classical dance vocabulary is given a needed shock to its system with speed and fractured lines, abstractions, and symmetry countermanded by asymmetry. Music is her script and she has collaborated with contemporary and experimentalist composers such as Rhys Chatham, Lukas Ligeti and John Luther Adams. The scores can be marked by extreme lyricism as well as dissonance, noise, and polyrhythms. Sets and costumes for her works are often designed by leading artists in the contemporary art world, including Jeff Koons, David Salle, Philip Taaffe and Brice Marden.
Here is “Connoisseurs of Chaos” performed by Armitage Gone! Dance:
Armitage Gone! Dance is Karole’s New York City dance company
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to grab a few minutes of Karole’s time during rehearsals and shoot this interview. When Karole Armitage isn’t busy staging the characters in Death and the Powers, she serves as the artistic director for Armitage Gone! Dance, choreographing for numerous companies throughout Europe and America as well as directing various operas. Karole has also choreographed for pop icons Madonna and Michael Jackson (which makes it that much more impressive when she compares Hal’s movement to Michael Jackson himself!). Karole came to work with Opera of the Future by working with director Diane Paulus on Hair, which opened on Broadway in 2009 and led to a Tony nomination for choreography. Here, she talks about staging each of the characters, the Miseries, and even the robots for Death and the Powers. Enjoy!