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Love, Death, Hope and Virtue: what do they mean in today's world? Multitalented artist Andrew Ondrejcak presents these allegorical characters in a contemporary form of the masque, an early 17th century British precursor of the opera. In the imaginative extravagance of the performance, evidence of Ondrejcak's background as an installation artist for the leading brands in fashion, sophisticated language and coarse humour blend with ease.
The music of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), who also plays Hope on stage, combines baroque with pop and soul and is performed by Belgian baroque-rock outfit BOX. Ultimately, a fifth character, Time, proves to be at the centre of developments, unmasking the other four as mere mortals.
You Us We All is a performance which was initiated by the Antwerp musicians' collective BOX – Baroque Orchestration X. Teaming up with the New York writer, director and set designer Andrew Ondrejcak and the American pop singer and composer Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) they give a performance filled with postmodern pastiche, in which the 17th century English masque is revived in a 21st century baroque opera.
The masque is an extravagant spectacle of dance, spoken word and music which was very popular with the English aristocracy in the first half of the 17th century. You Us We All takes the masque as its starting point – not only in content, but also in form and musical colour. As far back as in the 16th century at the court of Henry VIII so-called disguisings were organised, masqued balls which were given an allegorical theme. The court masque proper developed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Not only did masques have entertainers in disguise, but much more so than the disguisings they took on the form of real performances, with extensive scenic set-ups and written scripts. Masques were characterised by the use of lavish costumes and magnificent scenic machinery, inspired by the French 'ballets de cour' and the Italian 'intermedii'.
Like the disguising, the masque was always given an allegorical theme. The allegory often embodied clearly articulated political or moral messages, which could only be fully understood by an audience which was familiar with the symbolic associations ascribed to certain characters and storylines. In this way, the performers of the masque, which were often members of the royal family or the high nobility, would personify the divine virtues attributed to the monarch. The allegorical content of the masque was regarded by many to be its true essence.
Andrew Ondrejcak had in previous productions experimented with archetypes, flat characters which have symbolic meaning, but no personal history. In You Us We All he takes this approach a step further and presents the allegorical characters Love, Death, Hope and Virtue, who wander aimlessly through modern life as if they were part of a decadent soap opera.
The historical masque also contained an 'anti-masque', a burlesque intermezzo in which the noble values of the masque were reversed. The anti-masque introduced comic or grotesque creatures: characters from the the commedia dell'arte, demons, witches, birds, monkeys... In You Us We All, however, the comic anti-masque seems to have burst at the seams, the comic and the serious, the majestic and the earthly continually spilling over into each other's territories.
At a masque, the stage would be filled with various groups of musicians: a string ensemble, a group of lute players and often also a wind section. The formation of BOX is loosely based on the music of the masque, with three sections that can be distinguished: a gamba consort (strings), an alta capella (loud wind instruments) and a continuo group with lute, harp and keyboard.
Shara Worden wrote the music for You Us We All, as well as all the arrangements. Although she was inspired by Purcell when composing the melodies, her score also contains contemporary rhythms and American soul. Which puts You Us We All in this fascinating place in between: without a home of its own, but with a story about us all.
- Shara Worden
- text, direction, scenography
- Andrew Ondrejcak
- Pedro Lozano
- light design
- Lutz Deppe
- performed by
- Shara Worden (Hope)
- Helga Davis (Virtue)
- Bernhard Landauer (Death)
- Martin Gerke (Love)
- Carlos Soto (Time)
- music performed by
- BOX, cond. by Pieter Theuns
- ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann, BOX Office vzw
- deSingel, Internationales Sommerfestival Hamburg
- with support by
- Vlaamse overheid, Huis Happaert
You Us We All deftly weaves its songs together into a flowing movement.'concertnews.be