[purgatorio] POPOPERA is a dance work created by Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten, the principal choreographers of the Amsterdam-based troupe, Emio Greco/PC. When I met Emio and Pieter in New York in 2000, I was taken by their thoughtful intensity. This attraction only grew when I saw their dance. Their work captures an other worldly energy that, when on the verge of cresting, just continues to get wilder and wilder.
We began then a long conversation about creating a new work together. I suggested that the dance company learn how to play electric guitars and perform the music I write for them as part of a new dance piece. Although Emio and Pieter had reservations about this, they were intrigued, and in the summer of 2005 I met the dance company at Mass MOCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, and we began a 10-day workshop to see if it was even feasible to think that the dancers could learn how to play music.
In Massachusetts I was joined by Bryce Dessner and Katie Geissinger, who coached the dancers in guitar and voice, respectively. Bryce and I went to Guitar World in Albany, New York, and had the pleasure of buying eight new guitars. None of us, I think, were prepared for the intensity with which the dancers committed themselves to playing the guitar. The days consisted of long, grinding morning-to-evening sessions in which they rarely wanted to take a break and never seemed to tire. At the end of the 10 days. we gave a workshop performance to an invited audience and POPOPERA was born.
Over the next three years, I met repeatedly with the company, always in extreme workshop situations, and was assisted by Taylor Levine, who was their principal guitar coach throughout this period. Early in the process, I re-tuned the guitars, tuning the bottom three strings to F and the top three strings to E. This tuning created rich sonorities and allowed me to create dense harmonies. Between the summer of 2007 and the premiere in June 2008 at the Holland Festival, Levine and I met with the company for multi-week sessions in Italy, Amsterdam and again at Mass MOCA.
From the beginning, the dance company incorporated movement into the creation of the piece as well; after they learned a bit of music, they would then workshop the movement that would accompany that music. This whole thing might have seemed crazy to everyone involved in this project, but at a certain point it became clear that they were about to pull off something spectacular. All of a sudden they stopped being only dancers and also became musicians. ––Michael Gordon