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As part of his Dance Centre residency this season, choreographer and opera director Idan Cohen is completing research on an ambitious project to stage Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice as a contemporary dance work. We asked Idan to tell us about the project, what drew him to this opera, and his approach to collaborating with musicians, opera singers and dancers:
Tell us about your dance career to date.
I danced with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Israel for 7 seasons and began my career as an independent dance artist in 2006. I relocated to Vancouver in 2017. I am now the artistic director of Ne. Sans Opera and Dance: a home for the research and creation of work that seeks to deepen and re-connect opera and contemporary dance.
What is it about Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice that inspires you?
The story of Orpheus, as portrayed in this most loved opera, is an important representation of artistic and poetic heritage. It follows the trials of a divinely gifted musician and poet who, after losing his wife Eurydice, moves the deities of the Underworld with the beauty of his music and poetry, and is permitted to lead his love back to the world of the living. Though it has been told in many ways, the myth of Orpheus primarily speaks of the artist and art’s capacity to cope and inspire engagement with difficult questions in a world turned upside down by grief.
Tell us about your plan to stage the opera as a contemporary dance work.
Through dance and movement on stage, my intention is to emphasize that above all, Orpheus and his story are about human nature. In the Greek myth, Orpheus is described as a half-human half-god; in this production, he will stand in front of us as a human. Above all, Orpheus and his story are about human nature. The human, dancing body, serving as a living example of strength and fragility.
You are working with opera singers as well as dance artists: what is that collaboration like?
I seek to engage with the bodies of singers, musicians and dancers alike, guiding performers in movement and physical embodiment through techniques which I have studied and honed through the years. Bringing musicians and dance artists into the same room, workshopping, finding inspiration and learning from each individual practitioner forms a significant part of the mandate that Ne. Sans has presented to the community. I wanted to take the time to engage thoughtfully and methodically with my vision, and to incorporate voices of artists from multiple disciplines within my research. My distinct approach to this project is interdisciplinary and shaped by my research into music and dance performance practice.
What is the role of costume in this work?
The visual aspect of a performance is always important to me. Even more so when I work on staging an opera. I see opera as a time-bending genre. It is an historic, yet contemporary art. Orfeo ed Euridice premiered in 1762, it is inspired by a Greek myth, and hence the aesthetic and values of the story are inherently different than the ones that we recognize in the western, contemporary North American society I am a part of. The costumes are a way to bridge that gap and create human archetypes that are visually stimulating, yet relatable and timeless.
If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing?
I would probably be a musician, or a visual artist… I believe you can get creative with everything you do, and yet, there’s something about the emotional journey that the arts lead you towards, something about being exposed and vulnerable, that is so challenging and thrilling to me. Trying to provoke emotions and thoughts that shake me to the core, and allowing them to be communicated both within yourself and to the community. I am devoted to this lifestyle – I dedicate myself the arts. It is something that is hard for me to imagine my life without.
How have you adapted your practice during the pandemic?
It’s a work in progress, a learning curve. But it was definitely refreshing seeing the many ways that we, as artists can reinvent ourselves, and still go on doing what we do best. I feel we owe a lot of this sense of resilience to national and local arts funding and supporting organizations such as The Dance Centre in supporting us throughout this journey. Otherwise, it could have felt traumatically scary and isolating.
What is your next project?
Now that the research part of Orfeo ed Euridice is (almost) behind us, I am going to move into the production phase of this wonderful opera. I’m really excited for that. Parallel to it, I am thrilled to be seeing the results of the first group of The Music and Dance Project, which will premiere three pieces created as a result of three collaborations between wonderful dance artists and musicians.
The Dance Centre presents
Artist-in-Residence Studio Showing
Ne. Sans Opera and Dance: Orfeo ed Euridice
Streaming April 6-13, 2021 | 5pm PST
Tickets on a sliding scale: $0/$10/$20
Supported through The Dance Centre’s Artist-in-Residence program.
Photos: Screenshot, Lior Noyman