Sometimes art is life and, at other times, life is art. Attack Theatre, though, seems to make the best of both worlds. The company loves to explore the world around it as resources for its work, from "The Kitchen Sink" to an outdoor sculpture playground to the Strip District, where it resides in an infectious brand of harmony with The Pittsburgh Opera.
So it was only a matter of time that the Attackers would turn to the opera itself. After all, co-founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope have choreographed Pittsburgh Opera productions for years, explored "Carmen" on their own and, following the move to 25th Street in the Opera's stylish renovation of the Westinghouse air brake factory, the company listen to piped opera music on a daily basis.
They titled this production "Soap Opera," which might have been misleading, for the evening at the George Rowland White Opera Studio had a dominating poignancy that was unusual for Attack Theatre. It portrayed the love story of singer Katarina Yzsmova (mezzo-soprano Nicole Rodin) and opera conductor George Smith (actor Mark Staley), who was dying.
Primarily a twist on the tale of "Scheherazade," where a woman prolongs her life through expert storytelling, this production showed a wife who tried to prolong her husband's life by reading stories.
Several of them played out below his elevated room, but he also revisited his own memories and the stories that permeate the operas themselves. So there were a string of segments depicting fantasy, bravado, tenderness and high emotion.
What connected them was an epic quality, whether it be opera, dance or life.
The company itself expanded its vision with a complex set of raised platforms, connecting steps and the slippery (soap?) wooden slide that made its debut in Attack's award-winning "Games of Steel" (2005). They also assembled a group of eight dancers to fill that spatial landscape. With a larger lighting and production crew, this was one of the most epic productions the company ever attempted.
But then, opera is the epitome of epic in the arts and it became a major part of the balancing act that Attack Theatre created. There were times when Attackers turned "Soap Opera" over to the music, with minimal staging, deliberately slowing the pace, although not always to good effect. But Ms. Rodin's quiet vocal intensity, accompanied by pianist Karen Jeng, made her the emotional center of the production.
The rest of the score included recorded vocals by members of the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artists program and live transitions and sound effects by percussionist Ian Green, all significant to "Soap Opera's" fabric.
Sometimes the dance stood on its own, however, like the opening where the ensemble set the stage with architectural movement designs. The ending was brilliant as the dancers tossed wafting white shirts (note that there was partial, but playful nudity) to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." But the dancers also became an opera chorus, a group of supportive friends or dinner guests.
So while the primary story centered on love and death, there were additional life forces, sometimes whimsical, sometimes downright giddy, that entered the picture. Confusing as it may have sometimes seemed given the wealth of ideas, this production inspired conversation and thought long after George blew a final kiss to Katerina.
Thus "Soap Opera" will have a different appeal to its constituents. Opera lovers will be happy pinpointing the connections, and dance lovers will remain agog at these unpredictable quick-change artists.