1000 voices piece
As part of the FLUXUS Festival’s Noon to Midnight, on Saturday, June 1, the talents of David Lang, Lesley Leighton and Dimitri Chamblas will join forces in the production of Lang’s vocal work “crowd out” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. “crowd out” was first performed in England by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in 2014.
This was Chamblas’ first time working with the LA Phil, bringing a choreographer’s perspective to the West Coast premiere of this piece. Chamblas was approached by the production’s staff at the LA Phil to see if he would be interested in directing the project. His sense was that the LA Phil wanted to have a very special staging of the work.
“The history of the piece” Chamblas said. “is that David Lang was in Europe for one of his concerts and while walking in the street, he saw a large crowd of people going in the same direction.” Lang became very intrigued with this and decided to follow them. “It happened that those people were going into a stadium. He had the evening off and decided to buy a ticket to find out what it was.” Chamblas went on to explain that the crowd was headed to a soccer game. Soccer was not one of Lang’s interests, but Chamblas explained that while inside the stadium “instead of Lang watching the sport, he decided to listen to the match. He turned his ears on and to listen to it as if it were a masterful music piece or as if it was an opera. The supporters were whispering, shouting and yelling, building up tension until the climax of a goal. At that moment, everyone became a community.”
This experience was the inspiration for “crowd out”. Lang invited a massive number of singers and created the work to reflect what he had seen, heard and felt in the large stadium witnessing shouting and moving soccer fans.
Previously, the performances of “crowd out” have taken place in large public places such as malls or open plaza areas. This was the first time it has been performed inside a concert hall. Chamblas said that the reason he was asked to direct the production “was really the thinking of how a piece like this could be staged in a theater. How will the theater change the piece? Where will be the singers? On stage?” All the production elements associated with theater were discussed, such as costumes instrumental in the dramatization of a performance.
“Very quickly” Chamblas said. “I decided that the piece will change the theater rather than the theater changing the piece.” He wanted to create a similar experience that the audience had in large public spaces. “I didn’t want to have the singers on the stage creating a distance between them and the audience. I wanted to keep that human element and create that feeling of one single crowd.”
1,000 singers were spread out within the concert hall, including the stage, the orchestra and the different levels of balconies. When the audience entered the space, they saw 1,000 human beings standing throughout the hall. The audience was invited to sit anywhere on the seats, on stage, or anywhere they wish. “The audience and the performers created a huge crowd; 3,000 people together in a room.” Chamblas said. “I really wanted to trust the human experience rather than building a show. It’s really more than immersive, it is one single community.”
Chamblas got rid of any and all artificial elements that would distract from the feeling of one large group of people living, moving and breathing inside a single space. He explained that Lang’s piece is a powerful work by itself with a thousand vocalists singing or speaking words and didn’t want to add any other dramatic elements. He felt that his job was to analyze what “crowd out” was about, and to banish all the ideas that he usually brings when he creates a piece in the theater.
He stated that the results of his work would be invisible because of its simplicity. When asked to explain, Chamblas said, “It is really all about the body. It’s about the human and the breath and I didn’t want to add anything else to that essence.”
For the press release Chamblas wrote, “A singer is a body first, a physical presence, before generating the voice. As a choreographer/director, I love to think about the voice as a whole choreographic territory. With 3,000 people in a room—a third of them singing—you don’t need anything else. Nothing artificial. No theatrics. We are all together in the space. The emptiness emphasizes the human condition… and allows us to build a community experience within it.”
One of the biggest components of this project was locating 1,000 singers in Los Angeles. “One of the interesting parts of the project was how we have been exploring the city,” Chamblas said. “how we’ve been meeting different communities, and how we’ve been able to build the project.”
The participants represented a diverse group of Southern California performers, including older singers from Orange County, younger singers from a church as well as college students. They include many people of different ages and cultural backgrounds. “All together to build this project.” Chamblas explained. “All together to perform at Disney Hall. All together to cover this geographical space, at that time on June 1st to share that work with that audience, is just unbelievable.”
Along with CalArts dance faculty member, Spenser Theberge, Chamblas first began working with each separate group. There were 7 groups of 200 plus singers and each group was assigned a color, a leader and a sub-conductor. For Chamblas the challenge of organizing such a huge organization was one of the most attractive elements. “How do you choreograph for them, how do you make them move together and how do you make them move.” The singers had a score with words to sing and performed the movements created by Chamblas.
“During the performance, Spenser and I go onstage and make some movement intentions that the singers then make at the same time that they are singing. They are very simple movements, but that make sense when 1,000 singers are doing them.” Chamblas said. “If you raise your right hand very slowly, or if you put your hands in front of your face with 1,000 singers doing that it is amazing.” All the gestures are related to different social issues of protest or words that relate to emotions like anxiety.
“There are some gestures that could be narrating the essay, but the timing has been changed and it is so slow that it becomes abstract.” Chamblas used the example of raising a hand to say hello. “If you take one minute to raise your hand, then it becomes abstract. If you change the timing of it, then you change the identity of it.”
The ushers at Disney Hall informed the audience that they are invited to participate in the movement if they wish. “Again, I really think of this as a global, strong experience for all of us 3,000 people.”
One of the first things that Chamblas did when he arrived in Los Angeles was to have 75 dancers perform on Grand Avenue, saying that at the time, he was more interested in turning the city into the stage. “When I first came to the city, I was shocked at the money component; that you had to pay for everything. So, what if I did a piece that would be taking place in the street where everybody could watch, and it would be free. Not with just one or two dancers, but with a massive group of 75 dancers, then it would be a real gift.” Chamblas has also worked with 150 dancers in a production of Swan Lake for the Paris Opera, but never anything like crowd out that uses 1,000 people. No one has ever performed from the highest of the balconies, so this was a first for Disney Hall.
The groups that will take part in the production of “crowd out” include: Los Robles Master Chorale, CalArts Department of Music, San Fernando Valley Master Chorale, The Ruby LA, Painted Brain, Philippine Chamber Singers, San Gabriel Valley Choral Company, Community Chorus, Women’s, Victory Starts Now, Welsh Choir of Southern California, LA Chamber Choir, CSU San Bernardino Department of Music, Dead Practice / The Mortuary, Pasadena Pro Musica, Children’s Media Association of Los Angeles, UCI Chamber Singers, Apollo Men’s Choir, Antelope Valley Master Chorale, Keali’i O Nalani, and Covina United Methodist.