ENO Baylis, our Learning and Participation Programme, have been working with 65 young people from across London in a project responding to ENO’s new production of Aida. Over the course of a week, the group have been working with a team of artistic professionals to create their own work in response to the design and ideas behind Phelim McDermott’s production of Aida.
One of the project participants, Ajay Gill keep us up to date with the project…
This Summer holiday, the ENO Baylis invited young people from all over London to participate and construct a piece, based on the opera Aida (written by Giuseppe Verdi). This stunning opera focuses on the forbidden love of Aida, an Ethiopian princess turned Egyptian slave, and Radamès, an Egyptian general who is set to conquer Ethiopia, and demonstrates the impact society has on the love between two people – and how those who do not stand for the oppression rise up and stay strong for their rights. The team of 70 young people, 20 designers and 50 performers, set out to the ENO Rehearsal Studios in West Hampstead for a week; and this is how they progressed to create a stunning final performance:
Sunday 23rd July:
On Sunday, the design team of 20 girls and boys from all over the area came a day early to begin discussing set ideas for the project – after a introductory day to the opera in June. The team met up with the amazing designer Ruth Paton and soon their creative ideas and opinions came bursting out; a deep sense of creativity resonating within all of them. With Ruth’s help, the company developed many design concepts and began to explore the use of red wool and bamboo to create webs, wire to create statue ‘judges’ (in the style of Alberto Giacometti), and black fabric which was suspended on trussing. These design elements all related to the opera in their own way: the duty of Aida binding her to her father and country, the almost divine judges which dictate all of Egyptians, and the elusive barriers that obscure the truth. The group really enjoyed their first day, and they were all excited for what was to still yet come.
Monday 24th July:
On Monday, the performance company joined the designers, and both groups filled the air with energy and positive ideas. The performance group began by thinking up ideas on how the story would lead through, while the designers began to work with top director Freya Wynn-Jones; who had the idea to build a wall as the audience entered the performance space, to create a sense of tension, mystery, and to further emphasise the fundamental idea of two groups of people being barred of from one another. In the afternoon, the performance company began to conjure up lyrics for songs, and the design group experimented with the use of moving the black fabric in different motions and with different media (e.g. their hands and bamboo rods). Everyone gained a real sense of direction after their first day together, and the safe and positive environment allowed them all to express their opinions on the direction of the piece.
Tuesday 25th July:
Upon the arrival of the groups on Tuesday, composer and music director Hannah Conway decided to teach the group a song to warm up their voices and prepare them for the full-on day ahead. The design members rehearsed their wall build; and also practised a transition from the wall into a magical gateway which would be used to see how history has repeated itself again and again. They were also presented with an awe striking aria by Gweneth-Ann Rand, who played Aida in the performance – her singing fuelled all of their determination to work towards the piece and it also inspired new ideas and concepts. Meanwhile, the design team had a surprise visit from ENO artistic director, Daniel Kramer. Daniel’s began by watching the team’s work, and then shared his experience with all of the members – giving advice on how to act more like performers on stage, how to intrigue the audience with the use of the wall, and how to create more interesting transitions between the wall and gateway. His help was greatly appreciated and all of the young people were delighted in his company. After the team’s invigorating talk, they began to realise their ideas with the help of Ruth and their amazing and talented design mentor, Adam de Vere.
Wednesday 26th July:
The performance members began to think up ideas for choreography with leading choreographer Derya Donaldson and rehearsed in the performance space, practising the scene where Amonasro (played by the mighty Charles Johnston in the performance), Aida’s father, separates her from Radamès’s comforting embrace. Tensions rose as the group had to execute the nail-biting crucifix lift, which required everyone to focus on their actions – but their steely determination and confidence allowed them to perform the lift perfectly and strike awe into all those watching.
Thursday 27th July:
The young members of the ENO team were excited for another day working towards their performance which was only a day away! The performance team started their morning by working with the excellent soprano singer, Eleanor Garside, to try out ideas for a soundscape which would be performed at the beginning of the piece; the result was magnificent and was deeply reminiscent of Ancient Egyptian culture. While the performers were in the rehearsal space, the designers were backstage, creating golden foil to put on costumes, as well as posters which had bold statements on what love truly means.
Friday 28th July:
Friday marked the last day for both companies, as well the day of their performance. All of the young people began from the morning practising the order of scenes and what to do when. A sense of anxiety and excitement filled everyone and they were all looking forward to performing in front of their family and friends, after all of their hard work throughout the week. The team got to know the amazing musicians who would perform scores in their piece – the oud (a string instrument that conjures up feelings of the Middle East) player, Ehsan Emam, and the trombone player, Raph Clarkson. After rehearsing again and again, the teams’ time was up, and the call of the curtain rising beckoned them to the stage.
The performance was magical and everyone brought their best to the table – the designers donning their well-made costumes and building the wall (as well as carrying out other important tasks such as the movement of the black fabric and even some backstage singing!), and the performers who bought emotion and life into the piece. All of the parents, friends, and family who came to both showings were very much proud and happy with the performances their children delivered; the piece made only in a week which taught of love and acceptance had captivated the hearts of all.
This experience has been such a wonderful opportunity for me; I have gained so much confidence and I have learnt new creative techniques which I can cross over directly into a professional environment. ENO has taught us all that our opinions matter and that a company of young people can help create a magnificent piece in only the span of a week – everyone has thoroughly enjoyed their time and all have learnt new skills which they wouldn’t have learnt in the classroom. I want to thank ENO so much for this opportunity; all of the staff and people behind the scenes have been so friendly and kind towards us all, and we could not have done this without you.
Ajay Gill, design group participant