Let's Get Physical

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By Lawrence Pech (Choreographer)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Choreographer and dancer Lawrence Pech has been dance master for San Francisco Opera for fourteen years. Normally his job includes choreographing ballet and period dances for operas like Aida, Turandot and The Merry Widow. Choreographing four operas that contain no dance—now that’s a something most of us don’t expect. Larry Pech explains.
Having worked with Ms. Zambello on a number of projects, I know she doesn’t want the people on stage to just do “the happy peasant dance” (unless, that is, she actually wants the happy peasant dance). 
Most are surprised to find out I am “choreographing” and ask, “Oh, is there dance in the Ring?”  No, but there is a lot of movement (music + movement = choreography).  Otherwise, I suppose, we would be doing a concert version, or what many opera fans call “park and bark.”  But as this art form progresses, it demands more and more of its artists.  I always tell the singers I work with to get to a gym, dance class or movement workshop to really get to know their bodies.  It is the new state of their being. [Above: Larry Pech shows a group of men auditioning to be supernumeraries how to "walk into the future."]
The entire process of choreographing the Ring—which began initially with the Rheinmaidens, then with the Valkyries, and now in a variety of different scenes throughout the cycle—has been a wonderful experience for me. I’ve been creating movement for the singers that is certainly outside a dancer’s vocabulary and demanding of the singers a great sense of physicality and movement.  I am especially impressed with the artists’ (read: not just singers, but actors and movers as well) abilities to multi-task. They are singing some very difficult passages while climbing onto set pieces, plugging in cables (the Norns), climbing over rocks (Alberich and the Rheinmaidens), running up and down stairs and platforms and climbing towers with one hand while holding “fallen heros” photos in the other (Valkyries) and on and on. [Right: Larry Pech discusses possible supernumeraries with Senior Associate Director Christian Rath, Assistant Director Elise Sandell and Production Operations Director April Busch] 
In addition to the singers, I work a lot with the supernumeraries—volunteers who do not sing or speak, but are on stage to act and move. This includes the bear in Siegfried, the children and adult Nibelungs in Rheingold and the men in Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung; they have been giving their all.  I do think we have a great cadre of supers this year and it has been continually surprising how they have risen to the occasion in the face of many added demands. 
As the rehearsal process continues and scenes begin to take shape, we will be adding more and more layers to each character through movement and physical qualities and characterizations.  It’s a very exciting time for me to be involved in such an important and massive undertaking and I truly feel blessed to be working with such a great creative team and group of artists.