Entertainment » Theatre

’Wolf-In-Skins’ :: New Dance/Opera Piece Gets Philly Outing

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jan 24, 2013

Philadelphia Dance Projects is presenting sections from "Wolf-In-Skins,"
Other segments of the piece previewed at American Opera Projects in 2011, but the Philly performances will be the most fully realized staged sections of the work so far.

"The only thing missing will be some of the planned set pieces," Williams explained. The full production date is undetermined, but he said there are negotiations for the full version, with New York Live Arts co-producing, possibly for spring 2014.

Last week, the Philadelphia cast was in the second session of rehearsals at the Conwell with Williams and Spears. Williams was singing the score as he is refining the choreography for "the dance of the courtiers and courtesans" with Spears at the piano.

Six of Philadelphia’s most dynamic independent dancers - Beau Hancock, Gregory Holt, Drew Kaiser, Stuart Meyers, Alec Moss and Gabrielle Revlock - are part of a cast of over 30 singers, musicians and dancers performing in the scene extracts. Spears and Williams have collaborated on a trilogy of works for five years, but Wolf is their most ambitious project yet.

Last week in rehearsals at the Conwell Theater on the Temple University campus, Williams demonstrates moves in the scene or darts over to consult with Spears on a point in the score, or checking his digital video track on his computer as well as checking the sight and sound spots from the seating. He picks up the song cues and sings with complete serenity.

Terry Fox, artistic director of PDP, saw ’Wolf’ in development in New York, said it is PDP’s biggest commission to date. "There’s such specificity in Christopher’s direction, he communicates the subtleties and theatricality so well."

Fox noted that there were challenges for him working with the opera singers who had to move as characters in the scenes but that Williams simplified the movements, to be simple but dramatically effective. The piece is scored for an 11-piece orchestra on period instruments with musicians from the Sebastian Chamber Players.

Williams wrote the story, a mash-up of shared tropes in Welsh myths. "I got very interested in the sources, went back further to denizens of early Celtic mythology and found that they are from an ancient myth of the British Isles, that were expressed in different ways locally," he said.

"Characters in the human world come from the 13th century Welsh romance tales and they aren’t really Christianized. Things like animal transformation and passage to the underworld are present in medieval literature."

Spears uses various classical forms madrigals, choral baroque and pre-classical genres that tell the story orchestrally and Williams’ choreography, is atmospheric and period decorous. Williams extends with modern components, sculptural torso groupings and intimate communalism. His repeated use of dancer-entwined spirals has an earthy and ethereal beauty.

Williams and Spears had to return to New York after working with the Philadelphia dancers. He spoke by phone from his home over the weekend.

"My choreography has contrasting styles; I was influenced by renaissance court dances like Pavanes and Galliards, and even early 17th century alliances of dance with opera that grew out of the court of the Sun King. (Some) characters are inspired by imagery on megalithic monuments and early British art. I use circular and linear patterns, working with spiral formations of the body."

Fox observes that themes of "otherness" and transformation are the story’s subtext and Williams and Spears have built fantasy homoerotism into that.

"This court dance, for instance, is just a fa├žade. Underneath there is always the wild, emotional side of life. The dramatic arch of the opera is this wild passion that a character develops for another. The deep channel of passion that underlies our lives, whether we can express it or not, is a different story. So the dance bleeds in and out of that untamed emotional states."

PDP Presents "Wolf-In-Skins: A Dance Opera Choreography" by Christopher Williams with music by Gregory Spears (extracted scenes) | Conwell Dance Theater, NE corner of Broad St & Montgomery Ave., 215.546.2552; Jan. 25, 7:30; Jan. 26- 2:30 & 7:30.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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