During his tenure at Paris Oper, Gérard Mortier called these forms "frontière"... At this borderline or rather cross-border area, Thierry Pécou now introduces the "choreographic oratorio".
On April 23, 2019 Nahasdzáán, a new dance oratorio composed by French composer Thierry Pécou, with a libretto by Native American poet Laura Tohe premiered at Normandy’s Opera de Rouen.
The production received overwhelming praise and response from critics and audiences. Waldemar Kamer from Opernfreund said, “Nahasdzáán will bring new audiences to opera, for a new form of opera. Where has this been done? It has not been done before… Thierry Pécou established Ensemble Variances in 2009 and since that time has attracted attention from across the globe with his distinct, beyond definition productions. During his tenure at the National Opera of Paris, Gérard Mortier called these forms 'frontière' ... At this borderline or rather cross-border area, Thierry Pécou now introduces the 'choreographic oratorio.'”
François Cavaillès from Anaclase summarized the work’s unique qualities: “Luc Petton, Laura Tohe, and Thierry Pécou all share the concerns of Anthropocene – the human impact on the earth’s geology and ecosystems. The oratorio ends with a meeting of animals that alerts us to the risks we are taking–notes Pécou in the program. This is the message of the hour and a half show. We are humble and grateful. The ovation by the audience proved it.”
Nahasdzáán (Mother Earth) is built on the stories of the journey of the Navajo people from the First to the Fifth World. The tales lament the destruction of the earth and calls for affirming hope through healing ceremonies. Combining contemporary classical music inspired by Navajo chants, chamber ensemble, dance, and animals, Pécou/Tohe’s dance-oratorio is based on ‘Hozho’ a belief system articulating Navajo’s understanding of health, beauty, harmony and relationships with environment, family and society.
The development process began in 2016 in Window Rocks, Navajo Nation, Arizona, collaborating with family clans and continues dialogue. Luc Petton’s vision is informed by the feminist philosopher Donna Hathaway explorating the philosophical, cultural, and biological aspects of animal–human encounter. Ensemble Variances is committed to linking the music of our time with humanitarian and environmental issues. The dance-oratario is a collaboration of these shared values.
"In Navajo beliefs, animals are not mistreated or hunted for sport. Animals are our relatives. They are respected for their gifts of healing and what they teach us about bravery and resilience. In Nahasdzáán our animals join as one with the dancers and musicians to play equal roles in expressing the journey from the First World to the Glittering World. Audiences experience animals in a new light" (Laura Tohe).
The cast comprises four operatic soloists (SATB), two dancers, animals (an owl, a wolf, a falcon, and a Mexican eagle), two animal trainers, and the seven-piece Ensemble Variances with conductor Thierry Pécou.
The ninety-minute dance-oratorio is performed in English. All animals in the production follow guidelines by ASPCA and the Humane Society. They are integral to the cast.