Attack Theatre's 'Soap Opera' draws on storytelling

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The compulsively inventive folks at Attack Theatre know that, while creativity can come as a flash, it's also essential during the process of building a work of art. That's true whether the spark comes from their daily life or from the stimulus, for example, of an art exhibit.

The company began working on its latest show a year ago and presented parts of it at dinner parties in the fall of 2012. Then, in December, the performers began more-intensive preparations, fleshing out narrative, defining more closely their world of movement and drawing in extra performers, such as singer Nicole Rodin.

Attack Theatre will present the world premiere of “Soap Opera” Friday, with performances continuing to Feb. 10 at Pittsburgh Opera headquarters in the upper Strip District.

The company has provided dance for Pittsburgh Opera productions for many years and in 2009 began renting space in the opera's headquarters. Conversations with opera general manager Christopher Hahn about performing with individual singers at Brown Bag concerts got the ball rolling conceptually for “Soap Opera.”

“We were very interested in doing something that treated our experience in the opera but more on our turf,” says Michele de la Reza, company co-director with her husband, Peter Kope. The working title was “I love opera but I don't understand what they're saying.”

Kope and de la Reza were drawn to the power of storytelling. They thought of Shcherazade, the bride of the Persian king who married a new woman every day after having had the old one beheaded. She told such wonderful stories that he kept delaying her fate to hear another story the next night.

But, while they liked the idea of a story with the power to prolong the inevitable, they wanted their story to be less exotic, to hit closer to home. They decided to focus on a talented musical couple as she prepares herself and her husband for his death.

She tells five stories, each with a range of recorded and live music.

“Our five dance stories are contextualizing reflections during her poetry,” Kope says. “Physically, they really build emotions. One of my favorite sections is the hug line, on which she's overwhelmed by the support she's getting as a caregiver. She's overwhelmed and retreats to the bedroom through stop-action choreography. The music for this is huge, the Polonaise from ‘Eugene Onegin,' but we felt the desire to be very subtle. A head turn or a weight shift show she's looking at the world in a skewed perspective.”

Attack Theatre dancers are part of the company's creative process.

“When we tell these stories, we get to morph into these changes,” says dancer Liz Chang. “Sometimes, we get to doppelgang the main characters. Sometimes, we play other characters within the story. For me, it feels that they are different characters but all have some sort of line through.”

In building “Soap Opera,” Attack Theatre created multiple layers of meaning, not to tell its viewers what to think, says de la Reza, but to create images through which people are free to interpret.

It's a long process, but the fun they have along the way pervades the finished product.

“I think definitely this show has a lot of different emotions. It is easy to dance, fun to dance,” Chang says. “There's lots of partnering, lots of ladies and gentlemen being thrown into the air. It softens down, rises and rises again. A nice wave — that's how it feels.”

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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