Composer's Notes from Michael Gordon
[purgatorio] POPOPERA is a new dance work created by Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten, principal choreographers of the Amsterdam based troupe Emio Greco/PC. When I met Emio and Pieter in New York in 2000 I was taken by their thoughtful intensity and this attraction only grew when I saw their dance. Their work captures an other worldly energy that, when on the verge of cresting, just continues to get wilder and wilder. We began then a long conversation about creating a new work together. I suggested that the dance company learn how to play electric guitars and perform the music I write for them as part of a new dance piece. Although Emio and Pieter had reservations about this, they were intrigued, and in the summer of 2005 I met the dance company at MASS Moca in North Adams, Massachusetts and we began a 10 day workshop to see if it was even feasible to think that they could learn how to play music.
I was joined there by Bryce Dessner and Katie Geissinger, who coached the dancers in guitar and voice (respectively). Bryce and I immediately went to Guitar World in Albany and had the pleasure of buying eight new guitars. None of us, I think, were prepared for the intensity with which the dancers committed themselves to playing the guitar. The days consisted of long grinding morning to evening sessions in which they rarely wanted to take a break and never seemed to tire. At the end of the ten days we gave a workshop performance (!!) to an invited audience and Popopera was born.
Over the next three years I met repeatedly with the company, always in intense workshop situations, and was assisted by Taylor Levine who was their principal guitar coach throughout this period. Very early in the process I retuned the guitars, tuning the bottom three strings to F and the top three strings to E. This tuning created very rich sonorities and allowed me to create dense sounding harmonies. Between the summer of 2007 and the premiere in June of 2008 at the Holland Festival, Taylor Levine and I met with the company for intense multi-week sessions in Italy, Amsterdam, and again at Mass MOCA.
From the very beginning the company incorporated movement into the creation of the piece, so that after a bit of music was learned they would start to workshop the movement. This whole thing might have seemed crazy to everyone involved in this project but at a certain point it became clear that they were about to pull off something spectacular. All of a sudden they stopped being dancers and became musicians. I don't know exactly when this all happened but it encouraged me to write some fairly tricky rhythmic interplays between the group members.
Review from Vacluse Matin
The dancers seize the stage and then adorn themselves with guitars. And there they are, real guitar heroes! The soundtrack, formatted for saturated guitar riffs, accompanies or angel
dancers from the purgatory, who play live, and a divine singer: Michaela Riener. Michael Gordon composed the score, borrowing in passing one of the most beautiful themes by Debussy that resists, o miracle, the vibrant chords plucked by the plectrum! The lights breathe with the bodies and emphasize the neo-classical variations, mixed with frenetic contortions, somewhere between hip-hop and Saturday Night Fever. A poetic pop opera, pure rock, pretty trendy, that perfectly enriches the dance....Ho could one not buy into it?!
For more information about Michael Gordon, please visit his artist page here.