Don Giovanni

St John's Auditorium, January 2020

Company - Oxford Alternative Orchestra

Director/Technical Design - Jonny Danciger

Conductor - Hannah Schneider

Producer - Emilia Clark

Set Design - Christina Hill

 

Staging Don Giovanni presents two major challenges: how to explain a living statue within a narrative that otherwise operates in relative realism, and how to avoid the female characters becoming accessories to tired gags about sexual assault. In this production, I aimed to address these issues through embracing the dark heart of Mozart's opera, drawing inspiration from Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Don Juan Comes Back From The War and Blackadder Goes Fourth.

I decided to set the production in a Southern-Italian town occupied by allied forces in the latter stages of World War II. The female characters - alongside a crippled and embittered Masetto - are framed as residents of this war-torn community. On one hand desperate to clutch onto whatever morsels of joy and companionship they can find, and on another at a global turning point in women's liberty. They capture the real emotional grit. Giovanni, Leporello and Ottavio all belong to an allied battalion stationed in the town, and are characterised by a much more self-aware and absurd comedic style. They view themselves as righteous liberators, their arrogance grating with the dark emotional context embodied by the townsfolk. 

With death an unavoidable presence, the graveyard and statue is replaced by a pile of rotting corpses on a battlefield, with the Commendatore's body lying on top. Embracing the macabre enabled an ending which engaged more with the harsh consequences of human suffering than with religious notions of punishment. From laughing in the face of death to screaming in it.

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"Something dark, tragic, and queasily hilarious that owes as much to Tarantino and Iannucci as it does to Mozart."

- Jeremy Dennis, Daily Info

"A rare privilege ... The bloody and visceral nature of his damnation, where corpses come on stage to tear at his body, is highly impactful, building on the gritty horror-inspired rendition of the scene with the Commendatore’s ghost. Instead of a statue, this production makes a corpse of the departed Commendatore, positioned atop a pile of dead bodies played by the chorus, replete with eerie lighting and a wonderfully ominous sound design ... Intimate, funny ... a must-see"

- Oxford Opening Night

"An accessible and thoroughly enjoyable performance ... A talented and intelligent take on what is sometimes a stale staple of the repertoire"

- Elijah Ferrante, The Cherwell

The Beginning Of An Idea

Jacqueline du Pré, St Hilda's, January 2019

Composer - Joel Baldwin

Libretto - Jonny Danciger & Joel Baldwin

This original opera, based on a short story by John McGahern, follows Eva Lindberg as she attempts to leave her life as a stage director to follow her dream of writing an imaginary life of Chekov. The more she tries to escape the restrictive forces around her, the more stifling they become.

At various points in the production we jump between the real world and Eva's imagination. The characters she tries to escape become ever more present in her writing.

The use of the chorus was vital in this production, with their heavily stylised movement jarring with Eva's relative naturalism. This point of contrast became more pronounced as the opera progressed. The piece ends with the symbolic death of the narrator as Eva's attempts to write ultimately fail.

Candide

Oxford Playhouse, November 2017

Company - Barricade Arts

Producer - Naomi Chapman

Conductor - Joe Davies

Set Design - Christina Hill

Lighting Design - Jennifer Hurd

This production of Bernstein's celebrated operetta was created as part of the official celebration of Bernstein's centenary, and featured a cast and crew of over 70 people.

I wanted to bring the tone of the show closer to that of Voltaire's original text. We separated the role of Voltaire from Pangloss, staging all of the scenes using 'found objects' and a set comprising of modular blocks moved by the chorus. This aimed to give the narrator a greater sense of control over the action and characters, creating and destroying worlds at will.

Our approach was also largely inspired by Monty Python, particularly in the use of jarring contrasts. The restoration-era idyll of Westphalia gave way to a cold and unforgiving post-war landscape, situating Candide brutally at odds with the world around him. Bernstein's bright musical score acted as a constant comic counterpoint to the characters' miserable circumstances.

I worked very closely with our designers from the start of the process to ensure a unified and clear approach to each of the show's 35 locations. The interaction between the cast and set was particularly integral.

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"Jonny Danciger's direction of the show, along with his choreographer and Amy Thompson and his other associates was exemplary. The songs were presented with unfussy verve – nautical numbers using just a length of rope and a ship's wheel, the colour of The Kings' Barcarolle late in Act II – and the comedy was never overdone. The foyer as we streamed out into the cold November night was buzzing like an upturned but pollen-rich beehive. Student drama in Oxford, even perhaps in Britain, does not - at least on this grand scale - come much more polished than this"

- Andrew Bell, Daily Info

"As a light-hearted operetta, Candide’s main objective was to create laughter for a few hours on a freezing Wednesday night. Needless to say, this objective was achieved; I left the theatre feeling uplifted (which was something of a surprise, knowing that Voltaire wrote Candide to reject optimism). I also left feeling thoroughly impressed. If you’re looking for a whimsical break from the real world this week, get yourself to the Playhouse and get ready for the trip of a lifetime. I promise that, even for those who shy away from opera as I once did, it will not fail to entertain. If any performance in Oxford can win people over to opera, it’s this one."

- The Oxford Student

Scoring A Century

Peacock Theatre, August-September 2019

Company - British Youth Opera

Director/Librettist - Keith Warner

Composer - David Blake

Conductor - Lionel Friend

David Blake and Keith Warner's 'Scoring a Century' details the key events of the 20th Century in a series of 20 panels. As self-proclaimed 'high art for low-brows, and low art for high-brows', the piece combines contemporary opera, spoken drama and musical theatre elements into a fast-paced comedic romp. The light-hearted nature of the piece is grounded by four intimate 'mini-operas', which directly contrast the comedic scenes and capture the serious heart of the opera.

As assistant director, I was responsible for ensuring that the myriad of complex production elements all worked coherently within the directors vision. This included organising numerous on-stage transitions done by the cast (involving 14 moving doors), liaising with the technical departments, and ensuring that the rapid multi-roling of cast and ensemble was compatible with the many quick costume changes. I also prepared the cover singers, directing the 1-hour cover showing.

I was also the sound designer on this production, creating a number of highly stylised effects (from steam trains to exploding bulbs) and voiceover recordings.

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The Cave

St John's Auditorium, Oxford, May 2019

Conductor - Hannah Schneider

Company - Oxford Alternative Orchestra

Design - Jonny Danciger and Loic Daraed

This was the first production of Steve Reich's multimedia opera to incorporate a live acted component. The work closely investigates differing perspectives on Abraham through musical and visual repetitions of interview fragment

Staging this work in 2019, it was all the more important to explore the ways in which technology and religious culture can define one another. From simulation theory and being ‘blessed by the algorithm’ to lighting rigs in churches, technology is becoming both whatand how we worship. Through introducing the live character of an academic researcher, the multimedia format can develop from a means of delivery into a contextual force, facilitating an important dialogue between technology and faith.

In terms of the performance, I thought this was very accomplished. Run by Hannah Schneider and Jonny Danciger, the coordination of music and images was astonishingly accurate. The work was also interactive at times, with the actor shining a torch out onto the audience and among the orchestra. The idea of exploration was well portrayed by the actor, Maddy Page, in this scene and indeed throughout, with the confusion of technology, whiteboards, notes and pages being depicted continuously. I found this element particularly interesting, as the clear frustration and despair illustrated made me the more conscious of the complications and issues caused by technology and indeed any problems which confuse or distract us in our lives. 

 

Overall, this multimedia artwork was thought-provoking and inspiring through its abstract yet sensory design, and really forced the listeners to consider and interpret small elements to create their own narrative or meaning in the music. The performance itself was highly professional and encapsulating. The lighting and staging was effective at enhancing the drama and colour in the music, and the orchestra themselves maintained a focused and attentive presence which enables the solemnity of the narrative to come across. 

 

An interesting thought experiment, which I would recommend to anyone looking for a new perspective on conflict and, more generally, the natural world around us.

- Lucy Howard, The Oxford Student

Witch

Jacqueline du Pré, St Hilda's, January 2018

Composer - Toby Young

Conductor - Freddie Meyers

This was the world premiere of a new opera by Toby Young. The piece focuses on the ostracism of a new female employee in an office workplace, who remains strikingly silent throughout. It was largely inspired by the #MeToo movement.

This production used technology to explore mob mentality. As the witch hunt intensified, characters ceased to perceive events individually, instead filming on their phones and live-streaming the video onto the set. As the perspective became more forced, the acts of brutality become more severe. It aimed to make the audience question their own perspective and potential for complicity.

The silence beneath the noise is the guiding undercurrent of Witch, an original opera created by Toby Young and directed by Jonny Danciger. Whilst 35 minutes in an office may not be what you would expect from a self-titled opera, the exploration of what being a woman in the corporate world can entail provides plenty of scope for a theatrical narrative, one that is sharply resonant in a world in which questions of sexism and female identity abound.

What is possibly most striking is the use of technology, with the chorus filming Helen at various points, resulting in an uncomfortably close livestream of her face projected onto the background. This choral witch-hunt bears an uncanny resemblance to experiences of an anonymous public.

Witch draws out some serious problems in the way that we view scandals and that narratives are constructed about real people. It offers an intriguing insight into how opera can address current issues, and is worth seeing for these possibilities that it suggests.

- The Oxford Student

How To Use A Washing Machine

Burton-Taylor Studio, June 2018

Composer - Joe Davies

Libretto - Georgie Botham

This two-hander, scored for string quartet, follows young adults James and Cass as they return to their childhood home for the final time to box up their belongings. They go on a touching and humorous journey through their memories, and reflect on the trials and tribulations of becoming an adult.

This stripped-back staging used reinforce cardboard boxes to playfully create the settings for the characters' memories. A lot of time was spent on character development, allowing the songs to naturally breathe in the intimate space.

Designer Christina Hill and director Jonny Danciger made great use of utilitarian props (boxes and domestic equipment) to the extent that these came to assume a significance beyond their physical presence, and also exemplified the ability of this show to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear of resources

- Andy Bell, Daily Info