A high tech 3D light experience will form the backdrop to a unique performance of The Rite of Spring. Christopher Morley talks to the creator of this startling show.
Symphony Hall will never before have seen audiences like it in all its 20 years, when next Thursday we will all be wearing 3D glasses to experience a 21st-century digital makeover of Stravinsky’s groundbreaking ballet The Rite of Spring.
Nine stereoscopic cameras, simulating human binocular vision, will be focusing on the movements of the acclaimed contemporary dancer Julia Mach, as she interprets the score. Fed into a complex computer system, the images will be generated into 3D on a giant silver screen positioned above the CBSO conducted by Ilan Volkov, all delivered into our faces – and all in real time.
The fear of any part of this sophisticated technology collapsing must be immense, I put to the concept’s creator, media artist Klaus Obermaier at his home in Vienna.
“The fear of that is always there,” he answers, “but I think the fear is similar to a musician, such as a violin-player who has the fear that one of his strings might break. Or let’s say a singer, when the voice fails, which always can happen.
“I studied classical music, and I was touring around as a classical guitar-player, so my fear has not changed. It’s just a different one now.”
This is a new kind of input into musical performance, I observe, and Obermaier’s response is detailed and interesting.
“Technology is always changing. In the last century we had the instrument called the Theremin (as featured on the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations), the first instrument that you really could play without touching it – it was unbelievable that that was done at the beginning of the 20th century – and then it moved on to eventually digitalisation, let’s say the breaking-point.
“Because once you’re able to digitalise things, everything changes. Now the speed of technology changing our world is unbelievable, and that’s what more or less the piece is about.”
There will be two performances of the ballet on the same evening, which must be very exhausting for Julia Mach.
“Absolutely, yes. It’s really hard, because she’s alone onstage, and it takes such enormous concentration to be there just by yourself in this very complex music. We are training hard, she is training hard, and I hope she can stand it well before we just get through it.”
And Klaus, this conservatoire-trained classical guitarist, has done the choreography himself, as he explains.
“I worked more than 20 years with choreographers, using my music, music by other composers, using new technologies, and I more and more had the feeling it’s very, very hard to describe to a choreographer, that it will happen later when the technology is done.
“Because usually you have this parallel process: it’s not like that the technology is there, and then we do the choreography. That’s not possible, because usually you have a certain time for developing a piece. You have to create the choreography already, with the technology in mind, but not yet having it finished.
“So once I decided to do the choreography by myself, it drew me more and more into this decision, I have to do it. I know from the beginning what will happen with the technology, and with the performance.”
The idea for this presentation of one of the most iconoclastic works in music and ballet history came from an unlikely source based in a concert hall named for one of the most closeted and introverted of composers, Anton Bruckner.
“There was a postcard from a producer in the BrucknerHaus in Linz,” says Klaus, “and he asked me, ‘Klaus, wouldn’t you like to do something with The Rite of Spring?
“When I was studying music a long time ago, Rite of Spring was one of my favourite pieces, but I hadn’t heard it for a very long time. So I told him, let me think about it!
“First of all I had to check for myself whether I still liked the piece very much, if it gives me something special. It happened that a few days later I went back home and listened to the music, and immediately I was caught by it again, it’s such a strong piece. In my opinion it could have been done now, it’s unbelievable.
“And I quite immediately had a complete idea for its whole staging. It’s based on the original staging, but of course conveyed to contemporary times.
“Stravinsky wanted to have it as a mass ballet, lots of people there, and then this lonely girl, this lonely dancer with all these people, exploited by these people. I took this idea into our days, with our technologies bringing the dancer near to you.
“With a huge hall like in Birmingham, the dancer is usually a long way away from us. But with this new technology of stereoscopic projections you are nearer than you ever thought you can be to a performer. So I took the audience as the masters. You don’t need to put people onstage anymore. We are the ones the woman is exposed to, and I just think this the modern way of viewing what Stravinsky was exposed to 100 years ago.”
* Julia Mach, the CBSO conducted by Ilan Volkov, and state-of-the-art technology perform The Rite of Spring at Symphony Hall on Thursday April 21. There are two performances, each preceded by short works by Varese and Ligeti (6.30pm and 8.30pm). Details on 0121 780 3333.