Oh, that we might have more and more collaborations between the Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Wild Space Dance Company.
If it came to pass the theatrical panorama in Milwaukee would be so much richer, so much more filled with enveloping experience and so proud of a reputation as a home for singular and inimitable theater.
The founders and muses Debra Loewen of Wild Space and Jill Anna Ponasik of MOT, have again met in the ether of some planet creative and created an unrivaled experience in Milwaukee this, or any other, season.
The production is of “Svadba – Wedding,” the award-winning eight year old vocal composition written by Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic´. To say this 55 minute piece is a remarkable experience in the Great Hall of the Best Place in the Pabst complex is like saying the steak at Five O”Clock Club is a decent meal.
The story is a simple one. A young woman is about to be married and the night before the wedding she is joined by her five best friends for a final party.
Arriving at the site for the performance I was greeted by a large hall, designed like a typical wedding reception hall, round tables with strangers sitting with strangers. Two little girls dressed in simple pink dresses, greeted and sat the guests.
And then came the performance.
Let me explain that this opera has no orchestra. It has no dialogue. And it is sung entirely in Serbian.
You heard right, Serbian, and not even traditional Serbian. Sokolovic has taken the basic language and edged and tailored it to this piece. I mean who in the world speaks Serbian beside Serbs?
This cast is made up of six women who sing and six women who dance.
It’s an amazing journey through and evening that ranges from the greetings from the bride to her five friends to the solemn ceremony sending Milica (Lydia Rose Eiche) off into an arranged marriage that she is not thrilled about.
The scenes leading from then until now resonate with a familiar feel that is unmistakable for anyone who has ever been to or in a wedding weekend.
The five girls, for example, gather at a bar for a brief celebratory moment. They start with quick vocal chops and sounds complete with doing shots, move into a melodic revelry and finally into the kind of melancholy that often comes with the fading moments of a serious party.
But this production is less about the what we are seeing and more about the how these dozen women tell the story, whatever that story may be.
With stage direction by Ms. Ponasik, choreography by Ms. Loewen and music direction by Adam Qutaishat, who appears in various spots to conduct his singers, this is a production that invites us to the wedding and makes sure we get on this ride.
The language of the music is something you can’t understand in a literal sense, it seems universal in an emotional sense. I couldn’t give you a single translation for a single word, and yet I, and it seemed the entire opening night crowd captured every single moment.
This score is a difficult one with language that is earthy and romantic and filled with the kind of vocal acrobatics rarely seen on stage.
The singers and dancers were all wonderful. The singers (all with athletic voices) were Ms. Riche, Sarah Richardson, Kati Schwaber, Maela Schneider, Alaina Carlson and Allison Hull. The six dancers, alter-egos for the six singers, flew and floated throughout the hall. They were Chelsey Becher, Kylee Mae Karzen, Danielle Lohuis, Elisabeth Roskopf, Maggie Seer and Jimmi Renae Weyneth.
It was two years ago this month that Wild Space and MOT first came together to stage the remarkable “Song from the Uproar,” an opera marvelously conducted by Viswa Subbaraman that was one of the best and most interesting productions of the season.
Now, the two companies have done it again. They have proved that there is a hunger for new style and form in our world of theater. It’s risky of course, but with great risk comes great reward.
Let me end with sorrow at just a three day run and a plea in Serbian, the first and probably only time I will ever do this. Go look it up.
“Dajte nam još”
Production credits: Choreographer, Debra Loewen; Stage Director, Jill Anna Ponasik; Music Director, Adam Qutaishat; Assistant Stage Director, Daniel J. Brylow; Costume Designer, Leslie Vaglica; Lighting Designer, AntiShadows LLC; Stage Manager, Paula Gallarino; Production Photographer, Mark Frohna.