This past week, the two most potent cultural events I’ve seen involve both space travel and music—Wooster Group’s La Didone, and SciFi Network’s Battlestar Galactica. Coincidence?
La Didone intertwines tellings of Francesco Cavalli’s opera and Mario Bava’s film, Terrore nello spazio (Planet of the Vampires, 1965). Wooster Group regulars, including Kate Valk, Ari Fliakos, and Scott Shepherd, re-enact Bava’s kitschy film pretty faithfully, down to the super-enunciated line readings and comically overt gestures. Elizabeth LeCompte directs this production at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which runs through April 26.
The opera singing cast members, including the revelatory Hai-Ting Chinn as Dido, joined by John Young and Andrew Nolen, wear the same silver pleather spacesuits (by Antonia Belt) as the actors, zipped to varying degrees of reveal. It took some time to be able to process the juxtaposition of the two genres, but it works in the end. The classical “statue” positions assumed by the opera singers evoke Greek/Roman sculpture. Jennifer Griesbach, who plays keyboard and is assistant director, coached these Baroque gestures.
In Ruud van den Akker’s set, lit by Jennifer Tipton, monitors placed at various points show the film, so we can match up the recorded and live action. There are many “trick” film sequences that show hands working; the live actors stand behind the screens pretend those are their hands, like a boardwalk cutout photo attraction. At times the arias overlapped with the spoken text; surtitles for both were projected side-by-side. Both genres rely on exaggerated, artificial behavior, coming closer to intersecting than you’d expect.
Last weekend, the epic TV series Battlestar Galactica aired its finale episode (never done this before in a SundayArts blog, but… **SPOILER ALERT**!). On a very general level, this finale dealt with a roving population seeking a home—a planet on which to settle, after years of war and exile in space.
Recurring premonitions included following the savior of civilization on a chase through an Escher-like opera house. And the key to finding a planet involved enumerating Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and using said code as space coordinates to save humanity and its variants.
The idea that the universal language of music is some form of celestial ordering is irresistible; its essential mathematical underpinnings make it plausible. Wouldn’t it be lovely to think that art can save humanity, or at least make the world a nice place to be?
Wait… that’s already true to an extent. So say we all.
Images: (top) LA DIDONE Photo by Paula Court featuring, from left to right, John Young, Scott Shepherd, Judson Williams. (bottom) Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber and Katie Sackhoff, courtesy SciFi Network