We caught up with choreographer and opera director Idan Cohen to learn more about his research and new work being developed during our DanceLab interdisciplinary research program:
The Dance Centre (TDC): What is your background?
Idan Cohen (IC): I was born and raised in Israel, and started my artistic journey as a young child, playing piano in concerts around the country. Around the time of my 14th birthday I started feeling that the piano, and the demanding, quite isolated practice routine did not fulfill my wide areas of interests and artistic curiosity. I received a scholarship to study theatre and fine arts at an excellent arts school in Israel 's Negev - 'The arts colony'. Upon graduation I started taking dance classes. I was 18 years old and by the time I was 20 I'd joined the world-renowned Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, where I danced for 7 seasons.
Since 2005, I have been creating my own work. Here I found my true passion. In recent years I've developed a real fascination with opera, and in fusing opera and contemporary dance. That's my main source of inspiration and artistic research nowadays. I also have a BA and an MA in Choreography from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. My MA thesis was focused on Body Perception in Baroque Opera.
TDC: Your work examines the intersection between contemporary dance and opera, can you tell us more about this?
IC: In recent years I've been focusing on the research and creation of work that asks to deepen and re-connect opera and contemporary dance. I see it as a natural hybridization of two worlds, that have been artificially separated. For me this is a very natural fusion, both personally and historically (especially in French Baroque opera): the two were created to co-exist.
I truly believe that in order to create a really vibrant artistic scene there needs to be more exchange of inspiration and ideas between different artistic disciplines. Directing opera through contemporary dance opens a whole new world of collaboration opportunities, working with singers, live music and other forms of art and design. This excites me tremendously.
I recently formed Ne. Sans: a society based in Vancouver that seeks to create thought-provoking, artistically challenging art that combines classical and contemporary live music with contemporary dance. The mission of Ne. Sans is to support artists, open doors for opportunities and create exciting collaborations and presentational platforms.
TDC: Why did you choose Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice as the basis for your new work?
IC: The mythical story of Orfeo speaks of the ultimate choice to live, love and create. But besides the power of art it says something significant about the human condition, and the power and dangers of human hubris.
The opera is full of beautiful instrumental music created as 'ballets' and yet creating one more of quite a few 'dance' versions of Gluck's Orfeo, having the chutzpah to follow the long list of titans who have directed it already, brings many anxieties...
Any creation process involves a certain level of fear and anxiety… Let me put it this way: an opera is like a city. An old one that needs to be preserved and re-modeled, modernized, injected with life. A city that needs habitats.
I try to study and understand the values that were originally placed on the music and the performers, the 'history' of this city. Then, I hope to respect the huge problems and ethical issues of these values, through looking straight in the eye at concepts of novelty and tradition and the experience that the DNA of this creation brings to the creative palate, respect its architecture. In Orfeo these qualities can be talked about in the most honest, vulnerable way, exposing its inner human truth.
In opera, audiences often experience a difficulty getting used to hearing people sing what we would normally say, yet we understand that this is a convention, a representation of something deeper, fuller, rich in layer and subconscious meaning. The same with dance.
TDC: What can audiences expect to see at the showing? Who are your collaborators?
IC: My DanceLab hours were dedicated to further this research of the fusion of opera and contemporary dance.
Historically, opera involves individuals of different talents coming together from different age groups. Many of the operas we hold as treasures of our culture were created for groups of young men and women to be performed. I am excited to work with a group of young dancers from Arts Umbrella’s pre-professional program run by Lesley Telford to perform alongside musicians and the Vancouver Academy of Music’s Schola Cantorum led by Kathleen Allan, and mezzo soprano Debi Wong. I have also spent wonderful rehearsal time with the composer/dancer Jeremy O'Neill and the multi-talented Ted Littlemore. Besides dancing Ted and Jeremy are going to accompany the chorus and singer on the piano. These two will also perform a new duet I'm working on at Seattle international Dance Festival this June.
DanceLab: Idan Cohen/Ne. Sans
Sunday May 13, 3pm | Free
Photo: Ted Littlemore