Ballet-opera Liturgie was first conceived by Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes collaborators while carousing with the Italian Futurists and Igor Stravinsky.
First formed in Paris in 1909, the Ballets Russes cultivated an international reputation that attracted stellar collaborations between figures across the worlds of dance, music, design and fashion: from Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau to Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Henri Matisse. The company represented a vital moment in European culture: at a time when the continent was tearing itself apart, artistic endeavour as practised by the Ballets Russes was liberal, collaborative and, above all, cosmopolitan. Today, the Ballet Russes exerts an enduring influence, both as a model for contemporary practice and in its vivid aesthetic, which continues to be echoed from the catwalk to the high street.
Financial considerations and Stravinsky’s obstinance meant that Liturgie was never completed nor performed, and we must instead rely on the records that remain: a few photographs of the dancers in rehearsal, as well as extensive designs by Natalia Goncharova and a number of accounts of the work in correspondence and diaries. Goncharova’s dynamic drawings (pictured above) dictate the physical movement of the dancers, indicating that the set and performers should create a single plane, working together like tessellating geometric shapes.
The musical component of the original ballet-opera was left incomplete; when the project was abandoned Diaghilev had considered plain chant, dance in silence on a resonant drum-like stage, and a “Futurist Orchestra of sounds” as alternatives. In this version, Daniel Lee Chappell’s music uses scintillating modalities, choral writing, and plainchant to evoke the orthodoxy that surrounds this story, combining them with a distinctively twenty-first century musical language.
Taking place a century after the project was conceived, Spectra Ensemble’s production marks the world premiere of Liturgie, presenting the Orthodox rite as a total work of art that whimsically combines the satirical and the reverential.
Founded at Oxford University in 2015, the company provides a context in which young artists and musicians can collaborate directly in new and innovative ways. Its debut production in May 2015 was Performing Colour/Staging Sound at Oxford’s Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, a version of the potential of staging concert works.
Spectra Ensemble aims to stretch the parameters of opera by engaging simultaneously with the sonic, visual, spatial and kinetic realities of a work throughout the creative process. Spectra’s works challenge the conventional divisions between theatre, concert hall and museum spaces in pursuit of a total and immersive multimedia experience.
Kandinsky’s The Yellow Sound which was shortlisted for King’s College London’s Ivan Juritz Prize for Creative Responses to Modernism. This sell-out production stretched the boundaries of lighting design and explored the potential of staging concert works.
The Spectra team seeks to explore the legacy of modernism and its present-day reception through performance, exhibitions, criticism and scholarship, maintaining a unique position as a collective of artists wholly committed to multimedia performance. The team’s appetite for the unperformed and unperformable fosters both new writing and the designs and concepts belonging to multimedia visionaries of the past. For more information, please visit the website.
Liturgie premiered at By Other Means Gallery, Clapton on 14 December 2016.