Songs and Dances of Imaginary Lands: Overtone Industries, 7/15/10

10 08 2010

The premise of Song and Dances of Imaginary Lands is simple: when Tom (Jason Adams) and Sue (Jamey Hood) lose their identities, they seek a social service officer’s help to recover their past. But after a quasi-realist film introduces the characters’ quest, the curtains part – and Tom and Sue enter a worm-hole of living memories, a stunning constellation of pasts that can’t be reduced to simple facts and figures.

A collaboration among dozens of composers, librettists, performers, designers, and other creatives, Overtone Industries’ new opera left me with an almost childlike sense of wonder and awe. The audience takes part in the embodied experience of memory-making by traveling in trains or carrying their chairs from one imaginary land to another throughout a vacant car dealership in Culver City.

O-Lan Jones’ direction and choreography embraces the distinct sound of each composer/librettist team’s imaginary land, ranging from spoken word to traditional opera. Snezana Petrovic’s scenic and costume designs astonish in their diversity – and in their creative use of recycled materials, appropriately reflective of Tom and Sue’s recycled and re-embodied memories that linger larger-than-life. ┬áDressed in contemporary realist attire, Tom and Sue’s interwoven memories thrust them into stunning ensemble performances of dancing office desks and sandmen, in lands ranging from Ent-like trees to frigid Alaskan snowscapes.

Perhaps most remarkable are the nearly-seamless transitions among the diverse lands. As the lights rise and music strikes up in another space, dancers and unobtrusive guides light the way from one vivid, dreamlike memory to another. David O’s traveling music direction is quite a feat, as the live ensemble moves from site to site – and pre-recorded sounds fill the gaps – to provide nearly continuous accompaniment.

Songs and Dances of Imaginary Lands stuns in its ability to continuously engage the audience with the contrasts and connections among such vibrant sites, sounds, and dances. Interweaving fact and fiction, dream and reality, performers and audience, this new opera becomes a living part of the audience’s own kinesthetic memory. I know I will be sharing this experience for years to come.