|"Orfeo" Choreographer Keturah Stickann|
Choreographing for opera, unlike concert dance, is all about diversity. The more operas I became involved with, the more I found myself researching and studying different styles in order to deliver the most authentic choreography I could for the opera at hand. The first opera I choreographed was The Good Soldier Schweik, and I had to make a polka and Czech folk dance for an ensemble of ten singers. I studied Czech dance for months before and then had to learn how to teach these movements to a group of people who were NOT used to dancing on stage.
After twelve years, I’ve found that much of what I am hired to choreograph doesn’t involve professional dancers. From putting a minuet on the Duke and Countess Ceprano for Rigoletto, to making a maypole dance for the entire chorus in Don Giovanni to my most recent endeavor of putting together six simultaneous folk dances with chorus and principals in Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, I’ve given a lot of singers the skill and confidence to take the storytelling beyond what their voices can do.
When I choreograph professional dancers in opera, it’s a treat to be in the room with a group of people who all speak a very specific, movement-based language. There’s a euphoria that comes from being able to experiment with people who have been trained in movement. Even if my dancers have only been hired to do the can-can in Merry Widow, or the galliarde in Roméo et Juliette, their background allows us to play around a bit and add in intricacies that cannot exist with non-dancers.
Orfeo is the best of all worlds as an opera choreographer. I get to put a rousing folk dance on the chorus. I get to make a classic minuet on my dancers, I get to do movement work with the goddess of love Amore to help her find a particular style and grace within her character. And I get to go a little nuts and create a modern piece that is performed by both my dancers AND the chorus. Greater than all of this is the fact that none of the dance in this piece is treated as a diversion. Every bit of the dance advances the story in some way, and that is rare and wonderful for the performers, who are all distinct characters within the piece. Orfeo is all of my choreographic skills rolled into one fantastic opera, and that is deeply satisfying. — Keturah Stickann, Associate Director / Choreographer