The 2017 Various Stages Festival presents: Mu'a
Next month, Mahogany Opera Group presents the third edition of its fascinating Various Stages Festival. The Festival showcases theatrical and musical work in progress; out of a pool of open submissions, Mahogany has chosen four pieces to be workshopped and presented, along with two additional works developed in partnership with other companies.
One of these showcased works is Mu'a (Rain), by composer Dai Fujikura and director/choreographer Dam Van Huynh. Their "movement opera" is inspired by the practice of Vietnamese water puppetry, a tradition that dates as far back as the 11th century. We spoke with Fujikura and Van Huynh about creating Mu'a, ahead of its presentation at Various Stages, February 24 at 1pm at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts.
What can you tell us about the narrative of Mu'a? How much does the practice of water puppetry act as a device to tell a story about old and new worlds?
Dam Van Huynh: The narrative never comes at the beginning of my working process but is the result of a long and tortuous research. I guess this is due to my training and the way I look at the world through the lens of contemporary dance. I start with a concept, a sensation before heading to the studio where most of the work will take shape. I create in close collaboration with performers coming from different disciplines: musicians, dancers, actors, puppeteers and explore ideas with them. The narrative slowly unravels from this research, attempting to balance elements in time and space.
I have always been fascinated by the magic of water puppetry, its deep roots in Vietnamese culture but at the same time from a different era. I am keen to see what will come out of this encounter between an ancient artform and a group of artists anchored in our XXIst century. This process will be the chance to connect those dots and hopefully shake our conception of what is considered as "traditional" versus "contemporary".
What kind of musical aesthetic have you imagined for Mu'a?
Dai Fujikura: When Dam invited me to be part of this R&D process I knew early on from our email exchanges that he didn't want me to write music to which he would then choreograph to fit. That's not his way and it's not mine. Neither of us is interested in creating work in a pre-determined way with fixed creative ideas - particularly with this project.
I spend the majority of my time composing work which requires me to control every aspect. Mu'a is refreshingly the opposite of that. Instead we start with a 'table' of ideas, sound worlds, text, compositions of my own. These can be kept, trashed, mashed up, reworked, chopped, sliced and through experimentation we will craft and create the work which will be developed simultaneously alongside the movement. By having the expertise of a vocalist, puppeteer and dancer means that we have a group of artist unafraid of working with composed music/free-improv on a given structure and also able to continue with movement.
How would your opera compare to more “traditional” examples of the genre?
Fujiura: I don’t see the benefit of drawing comparisons. Let the work speak for itself.
How has the practice of water puppetry inspired the visual aesthetic of Mu'a?
Van Huynh: Mu'a means Rain in Vietnamese. The people who created water puppetry were farmers: when the rice fields would flood after heavy rainfalls, the villagers would entertain each other using this form of play. Water is intrinsic to this work and will most probably play a major part in its final rendering.
What do you hope listeners will take away from Mu'a's performance at the Various Stages Festival?
Van Huynh: I hope they will be intrigued and wanting to see/hear/know more. I hope we will have piqued their curiosity and drawn them into our world.