Artistic director, choreographer, and operatic tenor John Scott talks about merging his two loves, opera and dance, in his latest production with Irish Modern Dance Theatre, Divine Madness.
My new dance work, Divine Madness, running at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, from November 13th to 16th, fuses contemporary dance and opera. Divine Madness uses the glory and ecstasy of the great moments of Soprano arias placed in a world of dance.
Divine Madness has a cast of five: Soprano Mairead Buicke, pianist Richard McGrath and three extraordinary dancers: Conor Thomas Doherty, an Irish dancer working between Holland and Belgium, most recently with Jan Fabre on his 24-hour Greek masterpiece Mount Olympus; Hannah Rogerson from Newbridge, who runs her own company Tea Time Company in Holland; and Magdalena Hylak, Polish and based in Clifden, working between Ireland and France with the extraordinary French/Algerian choreographer, Nacera Beleza.
Over the next three years, I am working on a cycle of works based on dance and the singing voice. While my day job is choreographer and founder/Artistic Director of Irish Modern Dance Theatre, parallel to my work as a choreographer, I am also an opera singer. I was a longtime member of Chamber Choir Ireland and the Palestrina Choir and I've worked extensively with Opera Ireland and Lyric Opera.
I performed with Meredith Monk, the American Composer/Choreographer/Filmmaker in her masterpiece, Quarry. She describes her style as ‘singing body – dancing voice’. Her work is always a great inspiration and I use some of her techniques in how I create my dance works. I often integrate voice into my dance works.
Many of my dance works are deeply connected to classical music. I live my life thinking both as a dancer/choreographer and as a singer. In my last work Inventions, done for Kilkenny Arts Festival and Dublin Dance Festival and featuring Oona Doherty, Valda Setterfield, I worked with composer Tom Lane on JS Bach’s two-part keyboard inventions as a musical and structural guide.
In Visible and Invisible for Croi Glan, I collaborated again with Tom Lane using Claudio Monteverdi’s Dixit Dominus as a structure and musical model for the main section of the work.
As both a choreographer/dancer and a singer, I am always aware of the physicality involved in singing and the many similarities in how a singer uses their body to produce effortless sound, how a dancer uses their breath to generate movement and how they need to listen to each other’s bodies and the space. Dance rhythms are like a soundless music. In a lot of my dances, the dance movements are strongly connected to breathing.
Divine Madness focuses on the soprano voice and her universe. Mairead Buicke, the soprano, has worked with the renowned director Jonathan Miller in La Boheme at English National Opera. She has also played the Maria Callas figure in the Casta Diva concerts and the soprano in the popular Puccini Scandal at the National Concert Hall.
Mairead has an extraordinary virtuosic technique and is a brave and deeply intelligent artist. Both Mairead and I have studied with the legendary Dr Veronica Dunne and in London with Janice Chapman, an Australian soprano, author of Singing and Teaching of Singing, A Holistic Approach to Classical Voice.
Chapman views the singer as a whole person - that is, body, mind, spirit, emotion, and voice. The physiological segment stresses teaching based on the anatomy, muscular function, and the effects of muscular interactions.
The body is very aware of gravity and produces the voice from a very grounded place. The soprano voice seems to come from heaven and soar like an angel. It embodies beauty and perfection and is also divine, ghostly and superhuman.
The arias we are working with include Puccini’s Vissi D’Arte from Tosca, Verdi’s Ave Maria from Otello, Dvorak’s Song of the Moon from Rusalka and Richard Strauss’ ‘Morgen’.
Soprano roles can include a brave or foolish heroine, a victim or a goddess, often placed in extreme situations. Some of the constant issues are love, memory, forgiveness, and longing.
Divine Madness explores the meaning, idea, and physicality of these arias in a vital way, using the glory and ecstasy of the great moments of soprano arias viewed in a world of dance.
The dancers are all extremely passionate, dazzlingly physical, and honest. In the rehearsals, we are creating the dance phrases using the breathing techniques of the singer, generating all the movements from breath.
We all feel that Divine Madness is a new and thrilling journey in dance and opera and we can’t wait to perform this in Project Arts Centre this month.
John Scott’s irish modern dance theatre’s Divine Madness premieres at Project Arts Centre from 14th to 16th November (previews Wednesday 13th November)