Originality is hard to find. Because one idea stems from another, inspiration and originality have to walk hand in hand. The best work comes from those who knowingly bring their past into the creation process, not turning away from it but rather using it to their fullest advantage. Exciting work starts with passion and with the need to share that intensity with others through your craft.
I came blind to Opera Omaha. I was the last dancer to sign on to Semele and only by happenstance when a friend who was slated to do the production bowed out last minute and recommended me to replace him. I had never met Director James Darrah, but because I had long-time friendships with two of the dancers and was familiar with Choreographer Gustavo Ramìrez Sansano, I signed on immediately.
The first week of work consisted of rehearsals for only the Opera Omaha gala with the five dancers and our Semele, soprano (and new best friend) Mary Feminear. It was a concentrated workshop process consisting mostly of improvisation. We all dove in: dancers, singer, director, choreographer. Where some of us had previously worked together, others were complete strangers, and yet none of it seemed to matter; a unique familiarity was born. The second week brought in the rest of the principals and the chorus to start Semele rehearsals. After only two lightning fast weeks, it’s clear how standout this team and Opera Omaha is.
Collaboration is the answer to advancing forward, not only here in the beautiful worlds of opera and dance, theatre and music, but in any professional career. Change comes when people start looking outside of themselves, when they start to notice how important human relationships are and how vital other outlooks are to developing their own. When minds come together, there is the potential for the new to spark, for the unheard of to thunder.
James Darrah is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. His rehearsal process is unabashed, loose, fiery. After the first rehearsal, I spoke to my mom on the phone and told her how motivating it was to work with someone who was almost innocently obsessed with his work, who literally throws himself into every word and movement. James’ work ethic and honest excitement for opera, something so rooted in history (and let’s face it, Semele is 243 years old) is joyously contagious, spilling out into the room. When it happens, you can see everyone running toward it, careful not to miss out on its power.
Gustavo Ramìrez Sansano’s role here in Semele is quite different than what he normally does, but his attention to detail and to specifics is something rare to behold. As James gives us insight into every character throughout the scene we’re rehearsing, narrating their thoughts and suggesting their actions, Gustavo stands quietly to the side, his brain dissecting the room, the music, what James is saying and how movement can best complement it all. He’ll say something that can pull a scene together in the blink of an eye, with a gesture, look, transition or lift. His musicality seems to be his mode of survival. He finds it easily, relying on his expertise, yet never repeating an idea in the same setting.
Working with Darrah and Ramìrez Sansano is a like stepping into that room in your house that has taken years to perfect. There’s the massive painting that splashes across one wall, colorful and dynamic, unable to be ignored. Then there are the other pieces in the room, subtle enough to complement the painting, yet essential to the flow of the room, permeating the walls and spreading into the rest of the house. Darrah and Ramìrez have created the type of partnership that comes on subconsciously and surges past any expectation.
Opera Omaha – Darrah, Ramìrez, the singers, dancers, musicians, and everyone behind the scenes – has in fact created something original, inspiring and incredibly exciting, through collaboration. We’ve all brought our strengths, weaknesses and passions to this multimedia production of the beautiful piece that is Semele. All of us have been working for a lifetime in our respective fields and I think I speak for everyone when I say that this is a one of a kind experience, which these days is a very hard thing to find.
George Frideric Handel
Friday, April 8, 7:30 p.m. | Sunday, April 10, 2 p.m.