A dancer spins on his again gyroscopically, his legs spiraling within the air. He bounces off his shoulders and stands on his head. The strikes come from breaking and hip-hop, however the music is Baroque opera, and the phrases the strikes illustrate are classically allegorical.
Henry Purcell’s semi-opera “The Fairy Queen” (1692) is the type of work that the esteemed early-music ensemble Les Arts Florissants is understood for preserving alive in efficiency. The manufacturing of “The Fairy Queen” that the group is bringing to Lincoln Center on Thursday is just a little totally different, although. It’s staged by the French Algerian hip-hop choreographer Mourad Merzouki and options dancers from his troupe, Compagnie Käfig.
And the singers aren’t members of Les Arts Florissants. They’re graduates of Le Jardin des Voix, an intensive coaching program for younger singers that Les Arts’ founder, William Christie, and his co-artistic director, Paul Agnew, have been operating for 20 years. From a global pool of greater than 200 candidates, simply six to eight singers are chosen for this system each two years. In two and a half weeks, they rehearse a manufacturing, which then excursions the world with Les Arts Florissants musicians.
“We inform the youngsters that we’re not going to make excuses for them,” Agnew, the manufacturing’s musical director, mentioned on a latest video name from France. “They should be on the stage of Les Arts Florissants.”
“We throw them within the deep finish of the swimming pool,” Christie mentioned. “And both they sink or swim.”
This time, the swimming has some added problem: Merzouki asks the singers to bop.
“The Fairy Queen,” tangentially associated to Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Evening’s Dream” and generally carried out together with the play, is a collection of court docket masques. Its songs and arias are sung by allegorical figures like Evening, Sleep and the 4 seasons. Christie can checklist productions of it that he’s been concerned with going again greater than half a century, however this one, he mentioned, is “distinctive.”
“Within the opera world, the refrain typically has their toes nailed to the ground,” Christie mentioned. “However Mourad has been ready, in an awfully environment friendly manner, to show dancers into singers and singers into dancers. I’ve by no means seen it occur anyplace else.”
“There was a will from the beginning that it might not be singing or dancing, however one present all collectively,” Merzouki mentioned in French, talking by means of an interpreter.
In Merzouki’s staging, the singers don’t do head spins, however they do frequently transfer along with a gaggle of dancers who’re dressed indistinguishably from them. The total ensemble of singers and dancers acts out a lot of the textual content: enjoying blindman’s buff, tossing and delivering slumber, swirling like a leaf storm.
Right here and there, the dancers — who additionally embody a Juilliard scholar and a latest graduate — develop into extra elaborate and technically demanding choreography, making use of Compagnie Käfig’s bouncy footwork, articulated isolations and supple hip-hop acrobatics to Baroque rhythms.
“Purcell proved to have many factors in frequent with road dance,” Merzouki mentioned.
This manufacturing isn’t an replace, the collaborators burdened. “We’re not saying let’s make Purcell sound like hip-hop,” Agnew mentioned. “We wish the singers to sing with the fitting ornaments and phrasing, precisely as Purcell may need heard it. However the whole lot that Purcell produced lends itself completely to the identical rhythmic power and pleasure that Mourad produces in dance.”
One other commonality: Each singers and dancers, although drawing from totally different traditions, have the liberty to search out new surprises. “There’s lots of improvisation in Baroque music,” Christie mentioned. “Each night time one thing totally different is going on.”
“It’s by no means the identical present,” Agnew mentioned. “Making an attempt to do it the identical as yesterday is the most important mistake you may make.”
Though that is the primary opera that Merzouki has staged, his productions with Compagnie Käfig have lengthy experimented with mixing hip-hop and different disciplines. This collaboration, he mentioned, reveals how hip-hop is a mature sufficient artwork kind to suit with opera: “It sends a message that it’s attainable to interrupt by means of boundaries, that this inconceivable assembly is just not solely attainable however profitable.”
Christie cited his personal lengthy expertise resisting snobbery. “I get individuals who say to me, ‘How can an American conduct French Seventeenth-century music?’ Or ‘You’ll be able to’t presumably deliver the Seventeenth century into the twenty first century,’” he mentioned. “These boundaries shouldn’t exist. Mourad’s world and ours have one thing to say to one another.”
And what’s that connection? “Spontaneity,” he mentioned. “I’ve at all times mentioned that Arts Florissants ought to give the viewers the impression that this music was written maybe the day earlier than yesterday. That’s why I feel Mourad’s world and our world are so shut.”
Agnew agreed: “I at all times should remind myself that composers like Purcell labored in fashionable music. And so after we do that piece, it shouldn’t have any wrinkles on it. It must be brand-spanking new.”