Rap opera is messy and raw, yet rich and powerful
Young urban poets rap about poverty, violence, fear, and loss. A single violin soars rhapsodically or unfurls a dissonant fractured melody. Six dancers create connective tissue in phrases that reflect, underline, or add counterpoint to the theme of chaos, confusion, and redemption on the city streets.
Choreographer Anna Myer calls her new “Street Talk Suite Talk,’’ given its world premiere at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul last night, a rap opera, and that’s a pretty fair description for this richly textured, sprawling, and ambitious theatrical work. But as compelling as the finished product is, even more impressive is the collaborative endeavor, bringing together disparate elements like hip hop and ballet, classical violin and rap, into a unified vision.
Considering all these facets, it’s not surprising that “Street Talk Suite Talk’’ is a bit messy and raw. Two years in the making, this full-evening version is overly long, too busy in spots, and lacks a convincing dramatic arc. But it’s chock full of powerful, memorable moments, and it beats with a strong, steady heart and a passionate commitment.
Myer’s vigorous, imaginative choreography, grounded in an elegant balletic classicism, is repeatedly skewed with an edgy modernism: abrupt stops and starts, sharp angled limbs, gestures that range from clenched fists and pistol-like fingers to hands clasped in prayer. Quick shifts in direction suggest indecision, confusion. Stiff-legged walks evoke both shackles and regimented authority. The spectacular Joe Gonzalez stands out in athletic, high-energy solos and frequent couplings with Carol Somers.
Some of the poems are revelatory. TiElla Grimes’s “Deep-Rooted Reflection’’ and Tu Phan’s “Straightjacket’’ have a searing immediacy. Others have a musical rhythm all their own, sometimes complemented, other times subverted by Jakov Jakoulov’s eloquent score, played beautifully by violinist/violist Mark Berger. Throughout, God is addressed through questions, rebukes, and ultimately praise, as an eight-voice choir leads the audience in a sing-along finale of “Amazing Grace.’’