Igor Stravinsky's searing dance cantata Les Noces (The Wedding) caused quite a stir when it premiered in Paris on June 13, 1923 - due to both its proto-feminist choreography by Bronislava Nijinska and Stravinsky's typically intense score. This week will perhaps see some more pot-stirring when Dance Kaleidoscope premieres a same-sex intepretation of the cantata choreographed by its artistic director, David Hochoy, with the aid of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Njinkska's choreography for the piece was dark, reserved and implicitly critiqued the notion that a woman's duty is to marry, Hochoy departs from Njinkska's constrained world to open up a new frontier defined by openness, equality and uplifting spirituality, where same-sex partners are openly affectionate and sensitive to each other's hopes and fears. He replaces Nijinska's rigid movements with expansive and fluid choreography that features ten dancers paired as same-sex couples, with an eleventh assuming the role of the official performing the marriage rites.
During a May 3 rehearsal, it was evident the dancers were working into and out of the music to define their relationships to the piece. While the music is patently not pretty, the dancing transcends to show the qualities of grace.
When Dance Kaledioscope premiered a portion of Les Noces during last month's Butler ArtsFest, Hochoy admitted, in introducing the excerpt from the stage, that it might have been the hardest work he's ever tried to choreograph, despite having already worked on Stravinsky's Rite of Spring: "It is difficult to navigate through Stravinsky's music. You have to count until it becomes part of you." He told us more about the challenge in a recent interview.
NUVO: Why is Les Noces important for you to undertake at this point?
David Hochoy: I think it is the most challenging and complex score that I have ever worked on, and that includes a suite of Medieval music that I worked on for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Show that was very difficult to count. I think that at this stage of my career, with so many pieces behind me, that I was able to take Les Noces on and not be so terrified of it.
NUVO: Why is it important for an audience member to experience this new work?
Hochoy: Stravinsky was a genius, and a little bit crazy. The score is very layered and also has a lot of vitality. I think we have captured the essence of something that is very individual and unique to Dance Kaleidoscope, and which is reflected in the dancing, and also in the dancers. It is a piece that re-defines them in a wonderful way.
NUVO: How are you able to leap beyond the original structure of the ballet with a female/male marriage?
Hochoy: I restricted myself to using same-sex couples and partnering, and listened to music a lot. I created a structure that was congruent with the existing ballet libretto, and then took it to places that seemed to fit.
NUVO: How do you move beyond the binding of one partner to what is a more balanced relationship?
Hochoy: In same-sex partnering there is a lot more equality. The men aren't always lifting and supporting the women.
NUVO: How do you deal with the blessings of parents in a marriage that might not be blessed?
Hochoy: We don't have any parents in the piece. Only a kind of priest/shaman/elder who presides over the marriages.
NUVO: What other challenges are you dealing with in creating this work?
Hochoy: The major challenge was trying to decipher the music, and seeing how it could fit the idea, and then sustaining and developing it through the piece to a satisfactory ending. I didn't want it to be a political piece. I don't want to say same-sex marriage is good or bad, but simply to present it. Amazingly, it still is shocking.