A mov­ing Salome

“Salome has to dance. She has to knock it out of the park and then sing non­stop for the last 10 min­utes of the opera.”

Pasatiempo - - PASA TEMPOS - — Chore­og­ra­pher Seán Cur­ran — Michael Wade Simp­son

You don’t want to end up hat­ing her,” said Seán Cur­ran, chore­og­ra­pher for Santa Fe Opera’s new pro­duc­tion of Salome, de­scrib­ing the char­ac­ter with all the veils. Cur­ran has worked on sev­eral SFO pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing 2011’s The Last Sav­age and

Os­car in 2013. “Why does she ask for what she asks for?,” he said, re­fer­ring to Salome’s re­quest for the head of Jochanaan (John the Bap­tist). “She’s a teenage girl.” Os­car Wilde’s play, the ba­sis for the opera’s text, sug­gests that she had a sex­ual yearn­ing for the prophet.

In April, the opera flew Cur­ran to Paris to work on the dance. He spent 48 hours in a stu­dio with Salome’s di­rec­tor, Daniel Slater, and their Salome, Alex Penda, who lives in the city. Slater has cho­sen to set the pro­duc­tion in 1905 Europe, the year Richard Strauss’ opera pre­miered in Dres­den. “It’s very Down­ton Abbey — Ed­war­dian,” Cur­ran said. “There are no bib­li­cal ref­er­ences. All the slaves be­come ser­vants. As for the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” he said that “it feels like Art Nouveau — like a Toulouse-Lautrec paint­ing.”

Cur­ran said Strauss made his job eas­ier. “Salome is one of the great op­eras. The mu­sic evokes so much emo­tion — it does the sto­ry­telling for you. Strauss does tonal paint­ing. You can see the color of the grass. You can hear the wind. It’s vis­ceral, vi­o­lent, sex­ual mu­sic to me.”

At the re­hearsal stu­dio, Cur­ran led a warm-up with Penda — as a way of eas­ing her into the move­ment but also as a way for him to be­gin to un­der­stand the singer as a dancer. “Alex has played this part be­fore,” Cur­ran said. “I di­rected and chore­ographed it for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Danny has never seen or di­rected the show.”

Slater is a di­rec­tor who likes to be in­volved in ev­ery as­pect of a pro­duc­tion. He knew that Strauss was in­flu­enced by the the­o­ries of Sig­mund Freud, which were com­ing into vogue in Vi­enna’s in­tel­lec­tual cir­cles at the time of the opera’s ori­gin. “Slater wanted a psy­cho­log­i­cal take on the dance,” the chore­og­ra­pher said. “There was an im­age of an ice­berg and the psy­che. Here is a woman only ex­hibit­ing the tip of the ice­berg un­til she starts to dance.

“Alex has a fear­less phys­i­cal­ity,” Cur­ran con­tin­ued. “She un­der­stands the dif­fer­ence be­tween energy and ef­fort. She’s not afraid to look awk­ward or ugly.” To­gether with Slater, they de­vel­oped move­ment mo­tifs — “the silent scream,” “the mourn­ing sec­tion,” and “the daddy dance.”

“We wound up with a hy­brid. My in­gre­di­ents, Danny with the big pic­ture, and Alex’s con­tri­bu­tions.”

Cur­ran’s pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence with the opera gave him an un­der­stand­ing of the phys­i­cal re­quire­ments for the so­prano, not just the emo­tional as­pects. “Salome has to dance. She has to knock it out of the park and then sing non­stop for the last 10 min­utes of the opera. You have to have the body of a six­teenyear-old and the lungs of a forty-year-old to do this part.”

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