What makes the abstract minimalist music-drama of Philip Glass look like an old-fashioned Puccini opera? AlienNation Company's latest experiment, MIRAK. Instead of arias, violins and ballerinas twirling before sun-drenched palaces, this multimedia show features pretaped video, 3-D animation and dancers who drive computer-generated music.
MIRAK does, however, have a plot. It's the story of Romola, a cosmonaut who loses her mind after being locked in a seven-year orbit around the earth. She eventually mutates into nonhuman forms, taking the audience on a surreal journey inside her head.
The sci-fi opera is the brainchild of AlienNation director/choreographer Johannes Birringer and dancer/librettist Angeles Romero. Six years ago the two became intrigued by the problems of the Russian spaceship Mir and how space travel takes a toll on astronauts. "We wanted to explore what happens to the mind when it's in space for a long time," says Birringer.
Their answer: Sometimes Romola's mind is clear; sometimes it's fuzzy. At one point she fancies herself a giant queen ant. Still, the cosmonaut experiences the same dramatic and emotional changes as traditional protagonists in classical ballet or opera. "The way Romola acts and aspects of her alter ego and subconscious can be both danced and sung," Birringer says.
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Romero dances the role of Romola, mezzo-soprano Isabelle Ganz sings her voice, and four other dancers represent her subconscious mind and act out her hallucinations. With the help of animator Serena Lin and lighting designer Christina Giannelli, scenic designer Don Calledare turns DiverseWorks into a spaceship with satellite capsules and respiratorlike tubes.
The biggest difference between the troupe's postmodern show and traditional music theater is that Steve Paré's electronic score is generated by the dancers. A live video camera, pointed at the stage and linked to a computer, reads each dancer's movement, velocity, color and weight. "The music will only be heard if the dancer moves a certain way with a certain quality," Birringer says. "This is what we mean by interactive design."
But Birringer doesn't want people to think his work is overly abstract. "I'm not interested in technology as an abstract form," he says. "The content and narrative are more interesting to me than the film and interactive possibilities." Watch out, Puccini.
AlienNation performs MIRAK Wednesday through Saturday, December 15 through 18, at 8 p.m. at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, (713)335-3445. $12; $10, students.