Without doubt the most moving of the three performances I saw last weekend was Attack Theatre’s Soap Opera. The piece presents a series of dances, set to mostly familiar opera music, scaffolded upon a sparse narrative device: a well-known opera conductor, George Smith (played by Mark Staley) is dying, and his wife Katarina Yszmova (Nicole Rodin) comforts and consoles him on his deathbed by reading stories to him. The dances we see spin off from the story titles and descriptions; we don’t hear the narrative, and the dancers make no attempt to directly, narratively act out the content of the stories, but what each dance captures is the essence of what makes stories, operas — and, by extension, life — compelling: love, intrigue, adventure, humor, seduction, conflict, joy, and loss.
I find myself at something of a loss to describe how and why this evening of dance affected me so deeply. This is partly because I don’t have the vocabulary or training to write about dance in any kind of analytical way; but it’s more because my comprehension of the meaning of the work happened on a completely non-linguistic level. What’s expressed in, and felt through, this piece is a whole range of human experience, and often contradictory or conflicting experiences simultaneously. For example, at the end of the first act Rodin receives embraces from each of the dancers, who then catch her as she falls. This movement is repeated, several times, each time with the same intensity and care, and speaks at once of the utter and inconsolable loneliness of those who have lost or are losing someone they love, and of how much, even at such lonely times, they (and we) are held up by others. Another example: at the end of the piece, (what I took to be) the husband’s spirit is released into the central dance space and tossed about in a Wagnerian ecstasy of floating white clothes and tumbling bodies. It’s a complete and total release, a celebration, and an invitation to accept death as part of life. Soap Opera is dance as witnessing, as a meditation on what it is to live and die.
I suspect there is a great deal in this piece that I missed, given my lack of experience with both opera and dance; that is, I suspect, given how smart this company is, that there are connections between the musical pieces and the stories, or the dances and the operas, that more “insider-viewers” will catch. I welcome their comments. That said, you don’t need anything but a heart and an openness to go on a journey to find Soap Opera compelling and poignant; it opens itself to any number of understandings of what it is “about” in the end.
The dance company – James Barrett, Liz Chang, Kaitlin Dann, Michele de la Reza, Peter Kope, Brent Luebbert, Dane Toney, and Ashley Williams – is excellent, and they work beautifully as an ensemble, with an attentiveness to each other as well as to the movement itself. The music, much of it performed by the Pittsburgh Opera, is wonderful, and the piece features excellent live music by Rodin (voice), Ian Green (percussion), and Karen Jeng (piano).
You have only this week to see Soap Opera. Don’t miss it.