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Mozart, Neo Muyanga, Dane Hurst

Opera North

Grand Theatre, Leeds

May 26-June 4, 2023; 1 hr 50 mins

Dancers from Phoenix Dance Theatre and Jazzart Dance Theatre with the Chorus of Opera North in Requiem credit Tristram Kenton
Dancers dance and singers sing: Phoenix Dance Theatre and Jazzart Dance Theatre performers with the Chorus of Opera North in After Tears: After a Requiem. Pic by Tristram Kenton (some others by Richard H Smith)

Banner marking a 3.5 star rating for the work

Opera North is attempting something here that is genuinely innovative – a production that is both a choral and orchestral performance, and a contemporary dance show.

Part of the LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture, it’s a double bill of Mozart’s Requiem and a new piece by South African composer Neo Muyanga called After Tears: After a Requiem.

Both are given in a staged setting: in the former the opera company chorus and soloists take part in the action almost as much as the dancers; in the latter it’s just the chorus, reading from the score rather than singing from memory – but they sway around a bit and stand in lines and blocks that change as it goes on.

The common factor is choreographer Dane Hurst, until recently artistic director of Phoenix Dance Theatre in Leeds and now its artistic consultant and guest choreographer; and since last year artistic director of Jazzart Dance Theatre in South Africa. The dancers are drawn from Phoenix and Jazzart; the set, costume and video design is by Joanna Parker and the lighting by Peter Mumford; music director Garry Walker conducts the Orchestra of Opera North and of course its versatile chorus.

The two parts are in contrast: there are sombre hues and subdued lighting for the interpretation of the Mozart, while for the second it’s all colour and brightness: mourning followed by celebration, if you want it in a couple of words.

Hurst is a story-telling choreographer (which most of us are happy to see), rather than one of pure abstraction. His idea for the Mozart is that souls are entering a waiting space, making their peace with their past, and moving on with the help of their “guardians” to a place of rest. Not much of a story, you might think, and it’s certainly not related in any detailed way to the words of the requiem mass, but he gets the soloists (soprano Ellie Laugharne in particular) and chorus to interact effectively with the professional dancers, the “souls”, so that there’s a sense of human relationships and what their loss means, which matches the tender sorrows expressed in much of Mozart’s music.

After Tears: After a Requiem is described as a “response piece” and reflects a kind of new tradition arising in present-day South Africa, in which people turn mourning into celebration using elements of traditional ritual.

It has three parts, the central one including spoken word and chant from the dancers, while the chorus music (as could hardly be otherwise) is not on the same emotional level as Mozart’s but seems rather conventionally hymn-like. There’s some lively percussion writing for the orchestra though, and the final section is exuberant in every way.

The whole idea is apparently to make a kind of memorial of the Covid pandemic and the loss it brought, while expressing hope for the future. If that was the objective, it has been achieved. Of course that’s an event in history now, and we all move on (I hope).

Creating a new genre of choral-orchestral-music-theatre-cum-contemporary-dance was a brave aspiration, and probably one that only a company with the resources of Opera North can attempt: whether there will be emulation I have my doubts.

More info and tickets here


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