Roll over, Puccini, Donizetti, Bizet! You there, Mozart, get down! Purcell, do you recognize your Dido’s lament filtering through the drums in the East Village Opera Company’s rock ‘n’ roll take on it? Some of the best-known arias by these and other composers, as arranged and recorded by EVOC, have been cobbled together by choreographer David Parsons, Tyley Ross (EVOC’s co-founder and lead male vocalist), and AnnMarie Milazzo (its female vocalist) to form a score and a scenario for Parsons’s Remember Me. With this new work, which alternates at the Joyce with pieces from his dance company’s repertory, Parsons enters the realm of pop spectacle with a vengeance.
Raging passions! Violence! Undying love! Sex! A light show with eye-popping digital effects! An aerial duet! Awesome dancing! And a back beat to knock it all home. The story concerns a guy whose girl prefers his brother, so he drags her into a slide-projected cloister where she’s “kept in a gilded cage above” (according to a poem by Milazzo in the program), but appears to kill her (although she still has a lot of dancing to do). Ross and Milazzo sing live to recorded accompaniment (even a rock fan and a non-opera-purist can be appalled by what the Joyce’s sound system does to their mic’d voices). Parsons weaves them—excellent, showbiz-savvy performers—into the choreography, sometimes merging them with the hero and heroine; Milazzo sings one song sitting on a male dancer who’s on all fours, while Abby Silva, as the sought-after woman, stands on his back behind her.
This is one of those perpetually smoldering societies. The marvelous Silva is no sweet ingenue; she pumps her arms and swings her hips and flaunts her sexy body. Miguel Quinones, her rejected suitor and jealous kidnapper, and Zac Hammer, her preferred lover, thrust themselves into Parsons’s lusty, sensuous movement—whipping off turns that spin them to the ground and bundling themselves into the air like unexploded grenades. The other nine vibrant dancers act as observers, villagers, surrogates for the three principal characters, and even design elements. In one of the best scenes, couples squabble and duel in diverse, fiercely energetic ways. Silva is harnessed and roped (aerial co-choreographer: Stacey Carlson) for a striking duet with Hammer. Each time he lifts her, she’s sent just a little higher than usual in a pas de deux and lands in his arms—as light as his heart must be. There’s an eye-catching (if puzzling) scene, in which the ensemble, led by Hammer, walks in a slow procession, each holding the elbows of the person ahead. This long snake, reiterated by projected double-imaged video of it, ripples in optically tricky patterns while Ross sings EVOC’s version of “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot.
As long as Parsons is entering the domain of chamber extravaganza, he might consider clarity as an enhancement of drama. The audience roars for the powerful performers, the florid show, and the ambience of operatic passion, but I’m not sure they’re truly moved by the story, or can even follow it. Jason Thompson’s production design (abetted by Howell Binkley’s always expert lighting) can be distracting or unnecessarily puzzling. The projection of whirling stylized plants may be in aid of “The Flower Duet” from Delibes’s Lakmé, but what does a huge golden sphere—floating on or rising from what look like brown clouds—have to do with La Bohème‘s “Che Gelida Manina”?
Parsons keeps the stage a-swirl with punchy dancing—rarely allowing for the pauses or directorial strategies that would highlight the characters’ emotions and motivations and make it possible for you to be truly moved by them. Hammer shines as a dancer, but is never allowed to truly reveal himself as an individual. An entrance by Quinones, swathed in a long piece of dark fabric (pulled taut by someone out of sight in the wings), is presumably meant to telegraph his consuming jealousy, but the moment rapidly dissipates without making much of a point. In the scene that takes place in a nunnery or a vault of some kind, Quinones virtuosically brutalizes Silva, eventually pushing her into a backbend that forces her to the floor, and doing it every time she miraculously recovers (for this Ross sings Schubert’s “Ave Maria”). We aren’t shown her feelings—aren’t even sure she’s still alive—since she’s carried as if on a bier. A later solo focuses on her writhing on the floor in front of a spectacularly gaudy projection of swimming ovals and smoke-ring shapes. Quinones’s culpability is also shown choreographically. He keeps trying to get close to Silva while friends hover over her recumbent form, pushing him away. But whatever impact this has on him is lost in the turbulence, as the rock-opera dansical sweeps on, creating its own rules and breaking many others.