United States Aaron Severini, Echo & Narcissus: Soloists, Dancers, ShoutHouse/Alex Burtzos (conductor), Satellite Collective, BAM Fischer, Brooklyn, 15.9.2019. (RP)
Narcissus – Matteo Fiorani
Nymphs – Joslin Vezeau, Tara Youngman
Echo’s Brother – Timothy Stickney
Echo – Michaela Rae Mann
Soprano, Echo – Christine Taylor Price
Baritone, Narcissus – Philip Stoddard
Writers – Kevin Draper, Philip Stoddard
Director – Philip Stoddard
Co-Production Designers – Kevin Draper, Simon Harding
Choreographer – Norbert De La Cruz III
Costume Designer – Keiko Voltaire
Co-Lighting Designers – Brandon Stirling Baker, Conor Mulligan
Projection Designer – Simon Harding
Satellite Collective’s Echo & Narcissus engaged the senses to the nth degree, combining ballet, visual art, digital multimedia, lighting design and, to a certain extent, opera. I, however, found it impossible to digest as a whole because the music and dancing were so engrossing. Another person might have kept eyes glued to the images projected on the large screen, but not me.
Formed in 2010 by members of the New York City Ballet, visual artists, writers and composers from across the country, Satellite Collective has produced five seasons of works in New York and Michigan, where it holds its summer residencies. The endeavor has spawned an international community of artists in 159 cities and 45 countries, with more than 545 artists having participated in or contributed to its productions. Echo & Narcissus is its seventeenth interdisciplinary production.
The creative team was headed by two men with eclectic backgrounds. Kevin Draper, the founder and artistic director of Satellite Collective, is an architect and writer whose inspirations are deconstructivism and extreme sports. His resume includes current roles as a director with SAP AG and president of T. T. Handicraft Development Company, a Tibetan artisan venture initiated by the Tibet Poverty Alleviation Fund. Aaron Severini was a professional dancer with the New York City Ballet before studying composition at The Juilliard School. In addition to ballet scores, he has composed music for filmmakers and videographers, as well as works for concert artists such as violinist Hillary Hahn.
The mythical tale of the mountain nymph Echo who falls for Narcissus, fatally besotted with his own image, was updated to 1971 New York and turned on its head. Narcissus is a rebellious, charismatic outsider who haunts the city at night. Echo, a young socialite, falls for Narcissus and they hook up. In the myth she stutters; here according to the program booklet, she chatters incessantly. Her brother and friends (aka the nymphs) sense that Narcissus is trouble, and they are right. A horrible crime is committed, and it all ends in tragedy.
Italian-born dancer Matteo Fiorani embodied the mythical Narcissus; when he was on stage it was impossible to take your eyes off him. Tall, dark haired and handsome, almost equine in appearance, there was an athleticism and intensity to his dancing that was reckless and breathtaking. Totally opposite in physique, Timothy Stickney, compact like a boxer, was Echo’s brother. An equally compelling performer, his body was a tightly coiled spring ready to take off in leaps and rapid flights across the stage. When they were on stage together the atmosphere was electric.
The female dancers were no less impressive. Michaela Rae Mann as Echo radiated beauty and grace, her movements elegant and poised, and just as athletically daring as those of the male dancers. It was not only the movements of the other nymphs, danced by Joslin Vezeau and Tara Youngman, that captivated me, but also the intensity of their facial expressions. I’m not from the world of dance, so perhaps my vocabulary fails me in adequately describing how vital and exciting the five dancers were.
I know a bit more about music, however, and Severini’s score was mesmerizing, its sounds perfectly captured in motion by choreographer Norbert De La Cruz III. Severini is not one to shy aware from a loud bang on the percussion, but at the opposite end of the musical spectrum his intriguing melodies were simple and lyrical.
Writing for a small band of instruments heavy with woodwinds — flute, clarinet and bassoon, enriched by a trombone — the orchestra colors that he conjured were subtly beautiful. To be honest, I missed entire bits of the stage action and videos because my eyes and ears were glued on the section of the balcony where ShoutHouse, a terrific ensemble of musicians from the worlds of hip-hop, classical and jazz, sat and played.
There was a brief nod to opera, but it was an incongruous insertion into the performance. In a short scene, baritone Philip Stoddard as Narcissus browbeat soprano Christine Taylor Price’s Echo (who was in fact unable to express herself, as in the myth) into accepting a version of events that exculpated him. They have great voices and as much talent as any of the dancers, but they just didn’t have the opportunity to make much of an impact during their brief time on stage.
I wasn’t oblivious to the projections. Some of them were pretty cool, like the mechanical figures that represented Narcissus and his father. Perhaps there was a film or visual arts critic in the audience with a completely different spin on things, and I would be interested in reading that review. But the music and the dancing were what fascinated me.