About the Work
Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera, with its abundant energy, high contrasts and rhythms – has wonderful elements for dance. It is also incredibly theatrical, and very much a performance piece for the musicians. Tan Dun asks the musicians to move around the stage, vocalize and extend their playing to include paper, stones, cymbals and even bowls of water. In interviews about Ghost Opera Tan Dun talks about his early experiences with Nuo Culture growing up in the South of China, which is an ancient folk dramatic art involving Song, Dance and Ceremony dating back to the 16 and 17th centuries BC. The meaning of the Chinese character NUO is a patterned step to drive away evil and the Nuo Opera has evolved from a sacrificial activity or ceremony to worship gods and ancestors, enacted by a priest or shaman. It became a masked drama based on historical events or folk stories to establish ties and norms. Although contained now mostly to the Southern provinces Nuo Opera is still performed in cities and towns as a kind of seasonal ritual symbolizing wishes of sacrifice to ancestors, praying for blessing and dispelling evil. The performers wear elaborate masks. In Nuo culture masks are regarded as symbols and carriers of gods or spirits. Tan Dun talks of everything in Nuo having a spirit. The spirits of nature, time, place and culture are all present in his composition. This was the jumping off point for thinking about the choreography. Tan Dun describes his concept for Ghost Opera this way: “Ghost Opera is a piece using very ancient theatrical methods to approach a modern idea, linking the different kinds of territory across media and across lives, and across decades, and let all those souls talk to each other.” In his score Tan Dun references both eastern and western music and cultural traditions, with passages from a Chinese folk song, a Bach prelude, as well as quotations from Shakespeare’s Tempest. As previously mentioned he also incorporates different elements into his score – water, stones, metal and paper. GroundWorks approached the work as a kind of meeting place, a landing of spirits of all kinds – spirits from the past, present, and future, from east and west culture, from nature and technology. As such the performance, our stage, is a kind of metaphor for our brief time in life, where we come from and what we bring to each other.