There are some African wise words that say: if you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk you can sing. And this is what the children’s opera, Rain Dance is all about, giving young people the chance to perform and tell stories through song and dance (emphasis on the singing).
The opera was created by librettist Donald Sturrock and composer, Stuart Hancock, and my own small contribution is the fact that my retelling of an African story, The Hare Who Would Not Be King, was the starting point for the project. Sometime back in 2007, Donald Sturrock wrote to me asking if he and Stuart Hancock could adapt my story for a children’s opera. Their intention was submit the work to the London-based WW11 Opera in hopes of winning a commission for one of the Opera’s annual productions.
Time passed, and more time passed, but win they did, and Rain Dance was performed at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London in December 2010 to a packed house. I was there with G of course, sitting amongst throngs of excited children. By the time we came to the finale with its rousing Rain Dance theme, I was pretty much as excited as my junior neighbours. I might even have been jumping up and down in my seat: to think that my story had been the very small spark for this wonderful new work, and its exuberant performance.
The finale of Rain Dance. Photo: WW11 Opera
Of course this splendid show with 85 young performers (9-18 years) was only made possible under the auspices of the W11 Opera for Young People. This is a London-based charitable trust, founded in 1971, to give young people from all backgrounds the chance to sing and perform. Every year a new opera is commissioned with the aim of creating a repertoire of song-based works that can be staged by schools and community groups. W11 Opera also showcases the work of new and established composers, and its productions have seen the launching of star performers such as Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
And so, as may be imagined, I am incredibly pleased to find that the opera, which began life with the W11 Opera, will be performed once more. In March 2014 Rain Dance will have its North American premier at the North Cambridge Family Opera Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The NCFOC has a slightly different approach to the W11 Opera: the cast includes both young people and adults, and thus is a chance for family members to perform together. That there are people who put their time, enthusiasm and creativity into making such things happen makes me want to burst into song as I write this.
Performances March 29 & 30, April 5 & 6, 2014
As to my story, that had its own sources. It tells how the plains animals vote for a bullying lion to be their king and of the dire consequences of their actions. Hare, the familiar trickster of many African tales, is the reluctant hero of the piece, and nearly ends up as lion food. The plot is based on a story once told by the Akamba people of Kenya. I was living in Kenya at the time of writing, when the country was struggling towards a western-style democracy after years of one-party rule. This situation very much influenced the retelling. My version of the story was first published in the United States in Spider Magazine February 1999, accompanied by some fine illustrations by US writer and illustrator, Brian Lies. You can read an extract and see some of the original illustrations HERE.
In the meantime it is good to know that, in the last week of October, eager performers (young and older) will have been showing up for the Rain Dance auditions at the North Cambridge Family Opera. The story that Donald Sturrock has created is far more complex than mine. It draws on another African story besides, creating a updated version of the race between Tortoise and Hare. The animal election has all the razzmatazz of a human election with full media coverage. There is also the theme of climate change and its effect on the water-hole, to say nothing of hilarious interludes with Hare’s family and four shopaholic lionesses. Throughout, Stuart Hancock’s musical score is utterly original and captivating with no hint of ‘African’ pastiche in his lovely melodies.
The NCFOC performances are scheduled for March 29 & 30, April 5 & 6, 2014. Go, if you have the chance. You won’t regret it. You’ll come away singing and dancing too.
© 2013 Tish Farrell
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