The shadowy aesthetic of the new Magic Flute Ballet was the brain wave of Ballet Austin’s artistic director, Stephen Mills. “I’ve been in the theater for 30 years, and there’s very little that’s still magic for me,” he says. “But there’s a simple magic to shadow puppetry I just love.” Mills was first inspired by a shadow puppet art installation he saw in Venice back in 2009.
His production opens this Friday, May 6, at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin Texas. In this version, the dancers will interact with puppets that are operated by the stage crew. Their performance, as well as the stage design, is in silhouette and shadow, so the main visual world of Mozart’s creation is mostly white, black and gray.
The set designer also used a lot of resources to create imaginative visuals, such as the decorative elements of Art Nouveau, Asian artwork, folk tale imagery and symbols of Freemasonry (the organization to which both Mozart and his librettist belonged).
One of the main challenges in turning the opera into a ballet was the fact that the normal length of an opera (about three hours) is too long a time for dancers to perform. Therefore, they had the difficult task of shortening the score. “… if every note is perfect, what do you let go of?” Mills asked.
So they turned to a composer and professor at the University of Texas who had already condensed the opera into 90 minutes by eliminating the spoken dialogue and letting the melodies be the focus instead.
“I wanted to produce a space between Mozart’s original opera and the new ballet I was creating, and eliminating the singing was one way to do that,” Mills says. “I let the movement, the dance tell the story.”
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