Magazine article Opera Canada

Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie

Magazine article Opera Canada

Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie

Article excerpt

When choreographer James Kudelka stepped down as Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada in 2005, he found a new home at the Citadel, the home of dance company Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. The former Salvation Army building, with its converted small studios and theatre, has provided Kudelka with the artistic freedom he needs to underpin his ever-questing creativity.

His latest project (May) was inspired by A rebours, the 1884 novel by Joris-Karl Huysman, a mainstay of the 19th-century Aesthetic, Symbolist and Decadent movements. The title can be translated as Against Nature, and, in Kudelka's presentation, this was the tide of the staged song cycle with music by James Rolfe to a libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin. Kudelka both choreographed and directed the piece, which was performed by baritone Alexander Dobson as the master, with baritone Geoffrey Sirett and dancer Laurence Lemieux as the servants. The string trio accompaniment included Steven Philcox (music director/piano), Parmela Attariwala (violin) and Carina Reeves (cello).

The protagonist of Huysman's book is a jaded, dissipated and eccentric aristocrat, Jean des Esseintes. Disgusted by the current state of a French bourgeois society in which no one values "the meaning of a phrase, or the gesture in a painting," des Esseintes has retreated to a little house "designed for contemplation" in rural Fontenay. There, he will build his very own aesthetic, brave new world of the mind. Unfortunately for des Esseintes, this closed world leads to a breakdown in both his physical and mental health, and every task he undertakes reminds him of his debauched life in Paris.

Poch-Goldin's fascinating libretto, written mostly in rhyme, covers 15 scenes from des Esseintes' life in seclusion. It is a bizarre stream of consciousness that includes him adding jewels to a tortoise shell to make nature more beautiful and experimenting with different horrible scents to create his own perfumes. Then there are his memories, including his torrid affair with a wanton ventriloquist. In seclusion, des Esseintes' pursuits are weird and eclectic.

In the libretto, the master's text is the linear line. The male servant adds commentary and the subtext, and, together with a mute female servant, acts out the various episodes. …

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