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Anaïs, A Dance Opera was conceived and created by Director/Choreographer Janet Roston and Music Composer/Librettist Cindy Shapiro. After years of research and work, Anaïs, A Dance Opera made it to the stage for a four weekend run in Los Angeles at the Greenway Court Theatre. The production is filled with wonderful performances, beautiful lighting by Michelle Stann, inventive Projection Designs by Joe LaRue, and lovely period costumes designed by Allison Dillard.  The production focuses on Nin’s life beginning with her teen years living in France to her death in Los Angeles from cancer at age seventy-four. It manages with great skill to cover Nin’s relationships with her father, her two marriages and her love affair with Henry Miller.

Anaïs Nin
Anaïs Nin

Why make a dance opera about Anaïs Nin? Nin has been hailed by many as the best writer of female erotica. She wrote essays but was best known for her explicit memoirs; leaving out no details of her personal life. Nin was born in France to Cuban parents: Joaquin Nin, a pianist and Rosa Culmell, a classically trained singer. She was married to banker and artist Hugh Guiler, and without divorcing, later married Rupert Pole. Nin’s most famous love affair was with writer Henry Miller, but she also had close relationships with John Steinbeck, Antonin Artaud, Gore Vidal, James Agee, and Lawrence Durrell. Anaïs Nin was a feminist who was definitely ahead of her time. Some critics hailed her, but others panned her writings, stating that she was famous merely because she wrote so openly about her sexual exploits with famous men. Recently, however, Nin’s work has had a resurgence of readers.

Anaïs, A Dance Opera - Photo by Barry Weiss
Anaïs, A Dance Opera – Photo by Barry Weiss

The entire cast of Anaïs, A Dance Opera is wonderful, but the two who stand out are vocalist Marisa Matthews who plays Eternal Anaïs and the very beautiful and talented dancer Micaela De Pauli who portrays Anaïs. Each of these women are onstage practically the entire ninety-five minute, two act production. Although Matthews’ voice is very strong, she sounded a bit flat a few times during the opening scene; a section that is repeated near the end of the show. The other very talented actor/dancers include Michael Quiett (Henry Miller/Ensemble) Quinn Jaxon (Hugh Guiler/Ensemble), Mathew D’Amico (Father/Second Husband/Ensemble), Jacqueline Hinton (Ensemble) and Denise Woods (Ensemble). I do suggest that Quiett take a strong look at some of his flamboyant balletic mannerism.

Anaïs, A Dance Opera - Photo by Barry Weiss
Anaïs, A Dance Opera – Photo by Barry Weiss

For the majority of the production the words that are sung so powerfully by Marisa Matthews appear on the upstage screen via very imaginative writing and projection. Other writings of Nin’s also appear, plus one hears Nin speaking a few of her thoughts on life, love and sex. The lighting and projections are mostly in primary colors; standing out as bold and brilliant as Anaïs Nin’s extraordinary lifestyle.

Marisa Matthews in Anaïs, A Dance Opera - Photo by Barry Weiss
Marisa Matthews in Anaïs, A Dance Opera – Photo by Barry Weiss

Janet Roston’s choreography is sometimes a touch too balletic, but it takes on Nin’s desire to be loved by her father, her sometimes emotional emptiness and her sexual appetites brilliantly. The duets between Micaela De Pauli and the men in her life are truly beautiful. Cindy Shapiro’s music and lyrics capture the essence and directness of Nin’s writing in her diaries.  Both artists have spent years working on this project and their efforts and talents have produced a production filled with gorgeous visuals and sounds that both delight and educate. Anaïs, A Dance Opera is a wonderful tribute to a woman who was not only ahead of her time, but who lived her life as she and only she chose to live it. Nin refused to write like the men around her instructed or conform to society’s rules about how a woman should “behave”.

Anaïs, A Dance Opera - Photo by Barry Weiss
Anaïs, A Dance Opera – Photo by Barry Weiss

Of the many scenes Anaïs, A Dance Opera, the ones that remain most memorable to this reviewer are To the Edge, Alive, Café Culture, Lie Box and The Trapeze. These stood out because of the seamless marriage of all the elements presented: the lyrics, visuals, choreography, performances and music. The projections, the backdrops, the props and the costumes are exceptional in these scenes. The way Nin’s lies are expelled out of actors’ mouths and into the lie box is surprising. The music for The Trapeze is perfect through its familiarity and twisted humor. Several scenes depict with great clarity Nin’s emotional struggles and conflicts. The extensive information covered in this production is done so with great skill, and affection for its subject, Anaïs Nin.

Anaïs, A Dance Opera made this reviewer wish that he had met this amazing woman, and I hope to revisit some her work. The production runs for three more weekends (through September 18) at the Greenway Court Theatre on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. I highly encourage you to see it. Please support live performances! Information and tickets for Anaïs, A Dance Opera: http://www.anaisdanceopera.com/

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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