Billed as a ‘choreographic opera’, Sasha Waltz’s Dido & Aeneas looks to be the Semele Walk of next year’s Sydney Festival: the genre-busting spectacle that everyone will be talking about.
Waltz is a superstar of the dance theatre world, and she and her troupe have reimagined Henry Purcell’s Baroque opera about the ill-fated love between the Queen of Carthage and her warrior-lover Aeneas, in a spectacular staging that – most notably – features a giant water tank on stage, and a prologue danced underwater.
Waltz has been an old-music enthusiast for some time, but like most people her first encounter with Purcell’s opera was through Dido’s well-known ‘lament’ aria (aka ‘When I am laid in earth’): “It’s sort of an icon of the work – so beautiful,” she says.
The high-emotion, low-action content of Dido & Aeneas was a good fit for Waltz’s company: “I think that’s where the medium of dance really flourishes – communicating inner feelings,” she explains. “I think this story is very much about inner conflict – between the personal, or private, and your loyalty to your State or your ‘destiny’ – for both Dido and Aeneas.”
To represent this inner conflict, Waltz cast two dancers and a singer each for Dido (French mezzo-soprano Aurore Ugolin) and Aeneas (British baritone Reuben Willcox), and press-gangs the 16 singers of the Vocalconsort Berlin chamber choir to complement her own 12-strong troupe of dancers – not just singing, but also dancing. “For me, it was one of the most rewarding experiences – watching how their consciousness of their bodies grew,” says Waltz.
Waltz describes this kind of integration of music, movement and voice as ‘total’ theatre. “I think for me, this kind of theatre is ideal – if a performer is engaging their body and also singing, it seems like all our human mediums are really fully explored. It’s very satisfying.”