How to Sing a Picture

Expats.cz

Interesting encounters can be the start of exceptional things. If a singer told a dance director she ‘wanted to sing a picture,’ what would come out of that comment? The dance, music and video project called Obrazy (Pictures) now playing at Kolowrat Theatre.

“When Elena [jazz singer Elena Sonenshine] said that, that sometimes when she was saw a painting, she had a feeling of music inside her, I knew I wanted to do something with it,” said Obrazy director Tereza Sochorová. “I said let’s work on it and we developed this theater piece.”

Obrazy takes a series of paintings, ranging from cave paintings to Renaissance frescos to pop art and sets an individual dance to each one. Each dance is backed by an original jazz score and song, played live during the performance.

Sochorová and Sonenshine had worked together on a previous production of Sochorová’s T.H. Production called the Emotion Collection. For Obrazy she engaged a large number of people to help her develop it, ranging from the dramaturgy to the music, song lyrics and more.

“I involved a lot of people because I wanted lots of differences in each piece,” she said. “And I think there’s some kind of connection between all the people involved and the final piece, the lyric writers (including actor and musician Jan Budař, poet and writer Jiří Žáček and actor and director Petr Vodička), the musicians (Jerome Davies and Miroslav Linka), the choreographers (Marek Svobodník, Ondřej Vinklát and Štěpán Pechar) and me.

Interestingly, Sochorová used three choreographers versus one and had a specific reason for doing it.

“Each picture has its own feeling and emotions. I knew if one choreographer did it all, the way of thinking would be the same,” she explained. “But I wanted each picture to have its own feeling, a different feeling and kind of dance.”

She also thought it wouldn’t be as difficult for the choreographers, but she says they decided to work together anyway,

“It was probably most difficult for the dancers, three choreographers and one director all telling them what to do,” she said.

In most classic dances, you have a story; In Obrazy the story wasn’t always clear, but you were captivated. Especially when in one set a couple of guys were on skates and in another, on stilts. The dancing was skillful and having a live singer accompanying them was a rare treat.

Sochorová said even with the choreographer collaboration she can still feel one choreographer more than the others in individual pieces. She chose these three men specifically, having seen their work previously and knowing at some point she would like to work with them. When she was thinking about Obrazy, she knew what she wanted they could bring to the production.

“For example, I liked the way Marek led the dancers, I saw a part of it was the dancers acting, it wasn’t of course, but I saw it on the dancers’ faces it was more than just dancing,” she said. “And I felt something like nature and planets and how the world moves in the performances of the other two and that’s what I wanted in my performance.”

Kolowrat is a very contained space – not much room for the performers, much less an audience. You have intimate contact with the dancers, and they with their audience. The original plan for Obrazy though was that it would be shown at Nova Scena, an obviously much bigger stage. Funding woes delayed the project (the team worked on it for about five years) and eventually it was decided it would be staged at the Kolowrat. That necessitated a lot of changes. Sochorová ended up cutting parts from the video projections because the technical angle would not have worked in Kolowrat.

“We have original lyrics, music, live musicians, the choreographers, I wrote a haiku for each pieces, to push it all into too small a space would be like Wow,” she said. “But it was too coarse so we cut some parts and it was better.”

The original scenery too isn’t in this production because it was designed for Nova Scena, and wouldn’t fit in Kolowrat. Sochorová hopes if audiences like the show it will get moved to Nova Scena and she’ll be able to show it in full, as it was designed.

Sochorová, Elena and dramturgist Petra Zichová chose the pictures that were used.

“We found our favorite ones and then had lots of meetings about it,” she said. “I wanted a true history of the arts and in the end we had 20 pictures, which we had to cut to 16. I also wanted to be sure to show a connection through all the paintings.”

Perhaps I’m just not deep or intelligent enough to understand, but the dance connection with the art wasn’t always clear to me. Sometimes the artwork was projected behind the dancers the entire time, sometimes it flashed momentarily at the end. And I think I missed some completely. But Sochorová said something when we met that made me not feel so bad about it.

“I watched to make sure we didn’t repeat something—I only wanted to see new thinking and ideas,” she said. “But I also think it can be difficult for the audience, there’s a lot of information, so I hope it works.” Whether the viewer absorbs all he is meant to or not may be irrelevant, as like with art, contemporary dance can be quite open to interpretation and each person can view it how they like.

Even with myriad of elements in the show, there’s one thing that stands out for Sochorová.

“I think this synthesis of all things is special, but what is really special is the live jazz music,” she said. “It was difficult for the choreographers to work with jazz, it’s always changing. The musicians recorded two variations of each song so the choreographers and the dancers could get use to the improvisational changes the musicians would make during the performance.”

Obrazy is a very alive performance, quick moving and entertaining. True jazz lovers may be annoyed by dancers in their performance, and dance fans the same, however for most it’s a decidedly different project that anyone can enjoy.