Reviews of “Death and the Powers” in Dallas

Nathan Hunsinger/Dallas Morning News Staff Photographer

Nathan Hunsinger/Dallas Morning News Staff Photographer

Congratulations to the cast, crew and incredible team that pulled off last night’s flawless opening night performance of the Dallas Opera’s production of “Death and the Powers”!! Much relief all around that the Operabots, moving walls and chandelier were all in splendid working order after three years in the warehouse.

Reviews are coming in! The Dallas Morning News’s morning-after review noted that the singers “get lines of remarkable naturalness, from speech-song to genuinely beautiful arias, duets and ensembles,” and said “it’s hard to imagine a finer performance, staged by Andrew Eggert and musically coordinated by conductor Nicole Paiement, with choreography by Karole Armitage. Both seen and video-processed, Robert Orth is a tour de force as Simon, his sinewy baritone faltering only in some low-ranging patches. Joélle Harvey and Patricia Risley sing radiantly as, respectively, Miranda and Evvy.” Continue reading

Karole Armitage interview and dancing robots

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.

Meet the Artists – Karole Armitage (Choreographer)

Karole Armitage explores the robotic chandelier.

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

Karole Armitage interview.

Karole Armitage at work with Miseries.

Death and the Powers Synopsis (French)

Prologue

Operabots

Photo by Jonathan Williams.

Obscurité. Les robots roulent, oscillent, and glissent sur la scène en groupe puis se dispersent en différentes unités. Quatre robots émergent du pack et commencent à parler. Dans leur dialogue, les robots essaient de comprendre le sens du mot « mort , » un concept étrange auquel ils sont confrontés dans un drame qui leur reste de leurs créateurs humains. A la fin du prologue, toujours perplexes devant la notion de la mort, les robots entreprennent d’interpréter le drame rituel selon l’ordre des créateurs humains. Le robot leader annonce : « Il est maintenant temps que nous commencions. »

Mémoire téléchargée

Chaque robot commence alors à se transformer en son personnage humain. Un éventail d’informations, dont des fragments de personnalité et des souvenirs, est téléchargé. Un par un, les personnages humains émergent des robots, prêts à interpréter le drame :

From MIT Media Laboratory

Simon Powers – Homme d’affaires milliardaire obsédé par l’idée de mourir. La soixantaine. Fou, excentrique, charismatique, gaillard, brillant. Avec un côté pernicieux, malicieux.

Miranda – Fille de Simon, issue d’un premier mariage. En fin d’adolescence. Spéciale, visionnaire. Antigone, Cordelia.

Nicholas – Protégé de Simon. Etudiant de 3ème cycle, âgé d’une vingtaine d’années. Recueilli par Simon alors qu’il était très jeune placé dans un service pour enfants gravement handicapés. Bouge maintenant comme une machine bien huilée.

Evvy – Troisième femme de Simon, mais premier mariage pour elle. La trentaine. Séduisante, sexy, mais prudente.

Scène 1: Simon et Le Système

Simon and Operabots

Photo by Jonathan Williams

Chez Simon Powers, les derniers préparatifs sont en cours en vue de son immersion totale dans Le Système. Cette technologie va lui permettre de contrôler l’environnement physique après sa mort, c’est-à-dire qu’il pourra indéfiniment rester en contact avec ceux qui lui sont chers, mener ses affaires, et répandre son influence. Simon est excité, fébrile, comme un enfant. Miranda a peur. Evvy essaie d’être pragmatique, de rester calme, tolérante envers le comportement de son mari malgré ses propres angoisses. Nicholas est sérieux, en sueur, concentré sur son travail, un œil sur l’horloge. L’heure pour Simon d’entrer dans Le Système approchant, ils scandent à l’unisson : « La matière est mortelle, Le Système survit. » Simon cite des extraits de poèmes de William Butler Yeats (« Une fois hors de la nature ») et May Swenson (« Mon corps, ma maison, mon cheval, mon chien, Que deviendrai-je lorsque tu ne seras plus ? »), puis déclare allégrement que Le Système lui permettra d’être plus immortel que de simples poètes. Simon entre finalement dans Le Système avec un « A plus tard ! » adressé à son entourage. Evvy se demande « Et maintenant ? », et ils sont plongés dans l’obscurité.

Scène 2: Système Soliloque

Simon se métamorphose progressivement dans Le Système. L’environnement physique revêt subtilement différents traits de Simon, bougeant et vibrant comme s’il était en vie. La voix de Simon se fait entendre au travers de phrases courtes et entrecoupées (« Souviens-toi. Peu importe la matière – je l’ai fait. ») capturant l’essentiel de ses souvenirs, sensations et expériences. A la fin de la scène, il n’y a plus de trace du corps humain de Simon. Sa voix revendique encore et encore : « Je suis le même. »

Scène 3: Apprendre à te connaître

Miranda and Nicholas with Operabots

Photo by Jill Steinberg

Le temps a passé. Le Système ronronne – en veille – au repos.  Miranda et Nicholas sont dans la pièce où les murs continuent à bouger mystérieusement, langoureusement. L’environnement s’anime, manifestation de la présence physique de Simon. Nicholas certifie à Miranda qu’il s’agit bien de Simon dans Le Système. Nicholas dévoile son propre bras artificiel et explique à Miranda que la nouvelle technologie est « Comme mon bras gauche est à moi, il n’est pas moi. » Nicholas et Miranda peuvent entendre la voix de Simon, et s’aperçoivent que Simon a la possibilité de communiquer avec eux. Simon annonce que bien qu’il soit dorénavant dans Le Système, il conserve ses anciens pouvoirs : « Et j’ai des milliards. Et je peux toujours signer des chèques. »

Scène 4: Le Toucher d’Evvy

Photo by Jill Steinberg

C’est le milieu de la nuit. Evvy entre en scène dans un état de stupeur, comme dans un rêve, somnambule. Simon occupe maintenant Le Chandelier, qui vibre au son d’une délicate musique. Ils partagent un souvenir. Evvy demande, « Simon, est-ce que tu te souviens de notre première dance ? » et les détails sensoriels vivides de cette expérience les submergent à nouveau tous les deux. Simon assure à Evvy que son appétit de vivre est sans fin et qu’il en désirera toujours encore plus, tandis qu’Evvy caresse Le Chandelier engendrant de nouveaux sons qui enveloppent la voix de Simon. Elle interpelle Simon, « Touche-moi, » tandis que la voix de Simon dans Le Chandelier répète sans fin «Encore. » Le souvenir d’un moment d’amour du passé entraîne un renouveau de passion érotique, fusionnant la physicalité d’Evvy et la nouvelle forme de Simon.

Scène 5 : Nicholas et les Robots

Nicholas est dans son labo, occupé par les robots qu’il a construit pour Le Système. Les robots commencent à bouger au son de la musique qui émane des murs, puis prennent vie et se mettent à danser avec Nicholas. Miranda fait du classement et explore Le Système, tout en réfléchissant à la vie en dehors de l’enceinte de la maison familiale et du Système : « Comment sommes-nous liés au reste du monde ? » Nicholas raconte à Miranda comment Simon le sauva d’un centre pour enfants quand il était un petit garçon et lui offrit une nouvelle vie. Nicholas jure qu’il retournera la faveur : « Maintenant je vais l’aider à vivre dans Le Système. Sans corps, post-organique comme moi. »

Scène 6: Le Monde Réagit

Nicholas against Reuters news

Photo by Jill Steinberg

Une nouvelle atmosphère, plus étrange. Miranda, Nicholas, et Evvy y sont apparemment habitués. Evvy porte maintenant des écouteurs, se balançant un peu comme si elle écoutait de la musique, hochant et penchant la tête comme si elle canalisait la présence de Simon. Une délégation du monde extérieur – composée de United Way, des Nations Unies, et de l’Administration – arrive et demande à parler à Simon. Le monde entier s’est retrouvé plongé dans la guerre et la famine depuis que Simon est entré dans Le Système. Quand Miranda fait entrer la délégation, ils supplient : « Que veut dire votre comportement ? Nous demandons une réponse ! » Simon refuse de leur répondre et à la place cite un passage d’un poème allemand (« O Röschen rot! … Man lies in deepest need. Man lies in deepest pain. Yes, I would rather be in Heaven »). Cela ne fait qu’ajouter à la confusion des membres de la délégation. Après que Nicholas ait lu un article étrange dans un des journaux de Simon (« Un Groupe de Jeunes Battent une Infirmière à Mort »), la délégation est finalement congédiée. Laissée seule, Miranda se penche sur son propre sentiment d’isolement maintenant que son père est entré dans Le Système : « J’aimerais avoir un père comme tout le monde. »

Scène 7: Dans Le Système

Tout – les murs, Le Chandelier, les robots – marche de concert. Simon semble être partout, occupant tout, omnipotent. Evvy enlève enfin ses écouteurs et dit à Nicholas et Miranda qu’elle a canalisé Simon : « J’ai Ecouté Simon. C’est comme quand on est tombé amoureux… Vous pouvez vous lancer. Vous pouvez tomber sans fin, et recommencer.» Maintenant c’est Evvy et Nicholas qui sont transformés tandis qu’ils sont eux aussi absorbés dans Le Système. Seul Miranda reste pour faire face au monde extérieur.

Scène 8: Misères, Mémoire, et Miranda

Miranda and the Miseries

Photo by Jill Steinberg

Miranda est encerclée par un défilé des Misères du monde : victimes de famine, torture, crime, et maladie. Dans le sillage des Misères, la silhouette de Simon, tel un simulacre de son corps humain, émerge des ombres. Miranda et Simon ont une ultime confrontation au cours de laquelle Simon explique son choix de vivre dans Le Système : « Maintenant le seul recours est d’évoluer, hors de la chair et dans Le Système. Les autres, même quelques-uns, ne comptent pas – c’est toi-même, c’est toi ! » Il fait signe à Miranda: “Viens dans le monde de lumière. » Miranda hésite à suivre Simon dans Le Système. Ses doutes persistent : « Le corps de cette mort est qui je suis, c’est mon esprit… Qui serai-je ? Et que verrai-je quand mon corps ne sera plus ? »  Simon rentre dans Le Système. Miranda hésite. Elle se tourne vers le public, répétant une note aigüe montante tandis que le son tourbillonne autour d’elle : « Qui ? Quoi ? Quand ? Comment? Lumière. Mort. Seule. Vivante. Vis. » La lumière augmente jusqu’à devenir aveuglante. La musique émane depuis la voix de Miranda dans toutes les directions, remplissant l’espace et s’étendant bien au-delà.

Epilogue

Photo by Jonathan Williams

Le Système se dissout dans une Matrice de Lumière. Les robots reprennent leur formation rangée et s’allument. Les robots discutent le drame qu’ils viennent de jouer, mais leurs questions sur la mort restent sans réponse. Le robot leader assure aux autres : « Avoir des questions est excellent. » Le chœur des robots conclut : « Maintenant il est temps pour le rituel prescrit de se conclure. » Après quelques clignotements et pulsations de sons et ombres, doucement ils s’éteignent tous.

* * *

Music by Tod Machover
Libretto by Robert Pinsky
Story by Randy Weiner and Robert Pinsky
Directed by Diane Paulus
Production Design by Alex McDowell
Choreography by Karole Armitage

Read the synopsis in English

Death and the Powers Synopsis (English)

Prologue

Operabots

Photo by Jonathan Williams.

Darkness.  Robots roll, lurch, and glide onstage as a group and then disassemble into separate units.  Four robots emerge from the pack and begin to speak.  In their dialogue, each robot tries to understand the meaning of the word “death,” a strange concept they encounter in a drama left behind by their human creators.  At the end of the prologue, still puzzled by the idea of death, the robots proceed to follow the human creators’ command to perform the ritual drama.  The robot leader announces: “Now it is time we started.”

Memory Download

Each robot now begins a complete transformation into its human character.  There is a download of information including fragments of personality and memories.  One by one, the human characters emerge from the robots, ready to enact the drama:

From MIT Media Laboratory

Simon Powers—a billionaire entrepreneur obsessed with his death.  Mid-sixties.  Mad, eccentric, charismatic, virile, successful.  Has a devilish side to him, mischievous.

Miranda—Simon’s daughter.  Late teens.  The daughter of a previous marriage.  Special, prescient.  Antigone, Cordelia.

Nicholas—Simon’s protegé.  Grad student age: twenties.  When a child, rescued by Simon from ward for severely disabled children.  Now moves like an agile machine.

Evvy—Simon’s third wife, her first marriage.  Thirties.  Glamorous, sexy, but wary.

Scene 1: Simon and The System

Simon and Operabots

Photo by Jonathan Williams

In the home of Simon Powers, the final preparations are being made for Simon’s total immersion into The System.  This technology will allow him to control the physical environment after his death, meaning that he will be able to forever be in touch with his loved ones, manipulate his businesses, and propagate his legacy.  Simon is excited, giddy, like a child.  Miranda is afraid.  Evvy is trying to be practical, trying to stay calm, indulgent of her husband’s behavior in spite of her own anxieties.  Nicholas is serious, sweating, focused on his work, his eye on the clock.  As the time approaches for Simon to enter The System, they all chant: “The matter is mortal, The System lives on.”  Simon quotes poetry by William Butler Yeats (“Once out of nature”) and May Swenson (“Body my house my horse my hound, What will I do when you are fallen”), and then gleefully declares that The System will allow him to be more immortal than mere poets.  Simon finally enters The System, saying to the others: “See you later!” Evvy wonders “What now?”, and they are plunged into darkness.

Scene 2: System Soliloquy

Simon gradually transmogrifies into The System.  The physical environment subtly takes on many of Simon’s characteristics, moving and vibrating as if he were alive.  Simon’s voice is heard in short phrases and fragments (“Remember. No matter the matter—I did that.”) that capture the essence of his life’s memories, feelings and experiences.  By the end of this scene, there is no trace left of Simon’s human body.  His voice is heard asserting over and over: “I am the same.”

Scene 3: Getting to Know You

Miranda and Nicholas with Operabots

Photo by Jill Steinberg

Time has passed.  The System is humming—in quiet mode—resting.  Miranda and Nicholas are in the room, as the walls continue to stir mysteriously, enticingly.  It becomes an animated environment, expressive of Simon’s physical presence.  Nicholas assures Miranda that it truly is Simon in The System.  Nicholas displays his own mechanical arm and explains to Miranda that the new technology is “Like my left arm that is mine, not me.”  Nicholas and Miranda can hear Simon’s voice, and they discover that Simon has the ability to interact with them.  Simon announces that although he is now in The System, he still has all his previous powers:  “And I have billions of bucks.  And I can still sign checks.”

Scene 4: Evvy’s Touch

Photo by Jill Steinberg

It is the middle of the night.  Evvy enters in a daze, as in a dream, sleepwalking.  Simon now inhabits The Chandelier, which vibrates with delicate music.  They share a memory.  Evvy asks, “Simon, do you remember the first time we danced?” and vivid sensory details of the experience come flooding back to them both.  Simon assures Evvy that his appetite for life is endless and that he will always desire more, as Evvy strokes the Chandelier and conjures new sounds to envelope Simon’s voice.  She calls out to Simon, “Touch me,” as Simon’s voice in The Chandelier endlessly repeats “More.”  From a memory of love in the past comes a renewal of erotic passion, melding Evvy’s physicality with Simon’s new form.

Scene 5: Nicholas and the Robots

Nicholas is in his lab, inhabited by the robots he has been building as part of The System.  The robots start moving to the music emanating from the walls, then come to life and start dancing with Nicholas.  Miranda is archiving and exploring The System, and is also reflecting on life outside the family compound and The System: “How are we linked to all the rest of the earth?”  Nicholas tells Miranda the story of how Simon came and rescued him from a children’s ward when he was a young boy and gave him a new life.  Nicolas swears he will repay the favor: “Now I’ll help him live in The System.  Without a body, post-organic like me.”

Scene 6: The World Reacts

Nicholas against Reuters news

Photo by Jill Steinberg

A new, stranger atmosphere: Miranda, Nicholas, and Evvy are apparently accustomed to it.  Evvy is now wearing headphones, swaying a little as if to music, nodding and tilting her head as though channeling Simon’s presence.  A delegation from the outside world—composed of The United Way, The United Nations, and The Administration—arrives and wishes to speak with Simon.  The whole world has been plunged into a state of war and famine ever since Simon entered The System.  When Miranda brings in the delegation, they implore: “What is the meaning of your behavior? We demand an answer!”  Simon refuses to answer them and instead quotes a passage of German poetry (“O Röschen rot! … Man lies in deepest need. Man lies in deepest pain. Yes, I would rather be in Heaven”).  This only further confuses the delegates.  After Nicholas reads a strange report from one of Simon’s newspapers (“Group of Young Men Beat Nurse to Death”), the delegation is finally sent away.  Left alone, Miranda reflects on her own feelings of isolation now that her father has entered The System: “I miss having a father like any other person.”

Scene 7: Into The System

Photo by Tod Machover

Everything—the walls, The Chandelier, the robots—is working together.  Simon seems to be everywhere, inhabiting them all, omnipotent.  Evvy finally removes the headphones and tells Nicholas and Miranda that she has been channeling Simon: “I’ve been listening to Simon. It’s like when we fell in love … You can jump. You can fall forever, and do it again.” Now it is Evvy and Nicholas who are transformed, as they too are absorbed into The System.  Only Miranda is left to face the outside world.

Scene 8: Miseries, Memory, and Miranda

Miranda and the Miseries

Photo by Jill Steinberg

Miranda is surrounded by a parade of the world’s Miseries: the victims of famine, torture, crime, and disease.  In the wake of the Miseries, the figure of Simon, in some version or simulacrum of his human body, emerges from the shadows.  Miranda and Simon have a final confrontation, in which Simon explains why he chose to live in The System: “Now there’s no help but evolving, out of the meat and into The System.  It isn’t the many and the few—it’s yourself, it’s you!”  He beckons to Miranda: “Come into the world of light.”  Miranda is unsure whether she should  follow Simon into The System.  She has lingering doubts: “The body of this death is who I am, it is my mind … Who will I be?  And what will I see when my body is gone?”  Simon enters back into The System.  Miranda hesitates.  She turns towards the audience, repeating a soaring high note as sound swirls around her: “Who? What? When? How? Light. Death. Alone. Alive. Live.”  Light grows to a blinding level.  Music emanates in all directions from Miranda’s voice, filling the space and extending well beyond.

Photo by Jonathan Williams

Epilogue

The System dematerializes into a Matrix of Light.  The robots reform into a regular grid and begin to light.  The robots discuss the drama they have enacted, but they are left with unanswered questions about the meaning of death.  The robot leader assures the others: “Questions are excellent.”  The chorus of robots concludes: “Now is the time for the ordained ritual to come to rest.” After a few flickers and pulsations of sound and shadow, all gently fades away.

* * *

Music by Tod Machover
Libretto by Robert Pinsky
Story by Randy Weiner and Robert Pinsky
Directed by Diane Paulus
Production Design by Alex McDowell
Choreography by Karole Armitage

Read the synopsis in French

Interview with Karole Armitage, Choreographer

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!

Rehearsal Photos – Monday, August 2, 2010

Everyone is sweating bullets from morning until late at night to pull a zillion pieces together for this Wednesday, when there will be a complete run-through of the opera in preparation for shipping everything to Monaco. The complexity of this opera is mind-boggling: The singers and orchestra have to learn an extremely challenging score. The choreographer needs to devise a series of intricate movements for each character. The moving wall panels and robots have to work flawlessly. The images appearing on the moving walls have to coordinate with the music and emotion of the story – and look drop-dead gorgeous. The giant chandelier has to perform as a wondrous new species of musical instrument. The director has to bring all these elements to life on the stage with conviction and power.

Yesterday, I watched in awe as Karole and Hal worked through his dance with two of his robot creations. He ran across the stage as a robot sped forward to greet him, then moved down stage to leap playfully back and forth between two robots, twirling 360 degrees in the air and interacting with each robot. Some thirty feet overhead, a team of robot controllers furiously kept up, programming each robot to carry out its whirls and bobs, making the changes Karole required for each iteration. At one point, a robot conked out in the middle of its performance and had to quickly exit the stage to be replaced by a sibling. Although comprised of abstract forms – a triangular “head” mounted atop slender pillars of clear lucite, the robots are surprisingly characterful. One couldn’t help think the first robot seemed dejected as it rolled off stage, while its identical understudy sped onto stage seemingly eager to strut its stuff.

Karole, Hal and Robots D and I working on choreography

Robot mission control