Tonight, we had a lovely talk with the Atlanta Opera and Andrew Alexander at Sandler Hudson Gallery. You should come to the gallery and see Rocio Rodriguez‘ exceptional show on view. We’re very grateful to the Robin and the Gallery for having us over and sharing their good cheer.

Lauri Stallings (gloATL): We’re nomads; it’s different this year, a series of interventions. I don’t consider them site-specific works because we are there for such a short time. It’s an installation: we go in we set up and we are gone.


One of the central thoughts for us is economy: of form, of gesture, etc. LQ is 4 works in 14 days, and that’s a real beast. That’s why we returned to it: we’re only in the middle of our beginning, this being year 3.


Utopia stations, we say that because the sites where we work are stations. We decided we’d take it to you in the streets, to see you. Utopia, that great Thomas Moore term; we’re all in this together.


Andrew Alexander (Creative Loafing): I think that’s so interesting that you work with installations, especially since that’s not a term one thinks of with opera.


Laura Soldati (Atlanta Opera): No, you’re right. Maybe at one time opera might have been nomadic, but no longer. Today opera is on a stage and a bit away form its public. So the opportunity to be so close to our audience and singing to them so intimately, was really an exhilarating opportunity.

Megan Mashburn (Atlanta Opera): It was a big thing to learn and grow closer to my fellow artists. This was so fresh. I loved the interaction with the audience, that they were a part of it. We meet only halfway on stage and at Sol LeWitt’s sculpture they were just all in. Things went differently form what we rehearsed.


Andrew: Was it all positive, were there no negatives?


Megan: Well, there was this one moment. I was supposed to sing, and I knew where I was supposed to be and the audience didn’t know. I tapped him, and I guess he didn’t feel it. So I had to, the poor guy, I had to sing right behind him. It wasn’t a negative, but a new challenge.


Andrew: How about for the dancers?


Mary Jane Pennington (gloATL): Sometimes the columns and the audience are in competition for our spacing. I felt like I was visiting you just as much as you were visiting us.


Jimmy Joyner (gloATL): Y’know there is this phenomenon when another artist from another art form comes to a gloATL event. With the Atlanta Opera it was just great: they were so into stepping it up and going all out.


Andrew: Was there a particular sound that you were going for?


Laura: No, Lauri really just left it open to us. We wanted to juxtapose beauty with the neighborhood, we chose arias and duets that are just beautiful. “Tales of Hoffmann” is hard to produce, some of these songs we performed just won’t likely be performed here and this event enabled us to perform these rarely heard pieces. We had this opportunity to do beautiful work that we usually just aren’t able to do.


Lauri: I come to this with many different responses from many different directions. I wanted to know the songs as quickly as possible because I knew that we weren’t going to be able to meet with the Opera until the very last week of the series. So, we were listening to “Tales of Hoffmann” while also being in the middle of discovering three other sites for dance during Liquid Culture.


Opera and dance. It’s really only in our country that these two aren’t being explored the way were doing. In Germany, for example, this is happening. Choreographic operas they are called; the operas are catalysts in the same way that dance is. My association with opera is several years long now, starting with choreographing the first Spanish language opera to be produced in the United States. This was with the Atlanta Opera and unfortunately the funding fell through, but this was my first entrance to this relationship we are developing with the Atlanta Opera.


I always begin our work with exercises, in Liquid Culture it was with first with Joyner and then the narrative gets transferred to several other folks throughout the series. I like being an earthling, I like gravity. You might have noticed the first station at 15th and Peachtree, which was described as a shimmering spine. That was literally the first point in our working with the Atlanta Opera.

Sol LeWitt was a collaborator with us, even though he’s dead. His spaces he made, they seemed to be made without a concern for whether we were allowed into the work or not. So with Laura we were constantly talking about how to enter into opera and how to enter into dance.


Audience member asked about the platinum wigs.


Lauri: We don’t really work in a male-female situation. I grew up with parents that were pretty much naked around the house frequently. We are a four-legged species, that is how we work. The fact that those wigs were the only ones we could get for $6 a piece, that was the biggest reason to have those wigs.


Audience: What was different from Friday and Saturday?


Lauri: The public was different. On Saturday I didn’t see the audience shift much at the beginning of the performance and that was problematic for me. We want the dance to spread, like a virus, among you and there is a certain kind of etiquette that spontaneously develops when we are together. We want you to be fluid with us. Density was the difference between Friday and Saturday. It’s like going from a small town to a city; they’re different worlds. Tuesday we’re voting about transit, we’re dealing with shifting migratory patterns across our city right now. That is in part what we were also trying to emphasize in the Liquid Culture series.


Joyner: Yeah, maybe because there were so many folks there on Saturday, it was hard to move around with the density of that audience.


Lauri: I know that I can’t change the way that humans interact. But I’m hoping that we will find ways to soften and be more fluid in these performances.


Megan: Yeah, each night presented different challenges. The possibilities were different each evening because the audience was interacting with us in different ways each evening. I don’t know that I could say that I enjoyed one performance more than another.


Mary Jane: Yeah, we challenged the audience as well by placing those bleachers so far away from the sites of the performances. We wanted to bring you into the performances. The columns also provided options for where the audience could be in relation to the performances.


Laura: This isn’t the first time that we’ve done opera in the public. We do these pop-up performances every now and again and it’s a lot of fun to surprise folks with it. The future of performance is going to be in these nontraditional spaces and getting closer to the audiences. Opera is accessible, it’s a full-body sport and people can see that. Each singer has such presence, the song may be the same but each singer is so individual. When audiences can see how the whole body is involved in getting those sounds to come out, people can understand just how physical opera really is.


Megan: Doing the pop-up opera has been really informative. If you come to a pop-up performance you will laugh because it’s not at all expected. So I’ll see a lot of scared children, for example.


Audience: How does the performance change for you when you’re surrounded by all these cameras?

Laura: It’s an opportunity, sure it’s hard for a singer sometimes when there is a camera in their face, but there is nothing like live performance. The feeling of live performance is something that does not happen on a screen. That said, through screens we get many more people involved. The Atlanta Opera is a fairly experimental for an opera company. We worked with the University of Kentucky to develop technologies that would not obstruct light, cast shadows during our Porgy & Bess.


Audience: Is it challenging to be out on an Atlanta summer evening doing opera?


Megan: Well, for me, bugs love to bite me. But, really, I get just as hot on stage as out there. And outside there was that great city ambiance—those sounds, like an ambulance, for example. You’d never get those sounds on a stage.


Audience: There was this universal gesture that came a lot at the L5P performance and I’m wondering why it was used so much?


Lauri: What, this gesture? It’s meaningless. It really doesn’t mean anything. But, no, it didn’t come out in the final station (at Sol LeWitt). By that point the gesture had lost its meaninglessness and so it was no longer useful. We spend our every day exploring these gestures.


Audience member: was there a certain thought that was so necessary to this performance?


Lauri: Yes, I am trying to slow the world down. I want to make a space for us to learn about ourselves, with each other.


Laura: This experience was so exciting for us, because we are pushing boundaries. I think we need to start questioning things. I have always thought of art as a communication of the world and it seems to me that we collectively have moved away from that. Present boundaries, asking about ourselves, these are things that we need to be doing. So many artists I meet are afraid of changing. They don’t know why, they haven’t ventured out and seen that there is a change happening. Speeds things up for me.