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IMPRESSIONS: "The Lydian Gale Parr," a Chamber Oratio Featuring the Dancers of Ballez

IMPRESSIONS: "The Lydian Gale Parr," a Chamber Oratio Featuring the Dancers of Ballez
Kristen Hedberg/ IG @kristen.hedberg

By Kristen Hedberg/ IG @kristen.hedberg
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Published on May 1, 2024
"The Lydian Gale Parr." Photo: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

A Tank Core Production Co-produced by The Tank and Amanda + James

Composer: Alaina Ferris
Librettist: Karinne Keithley Syers
Featuring: Gelsey Bell (soprano, Celtic harp); Lacy Rose (soprano); Alaina Ferris (alto, piano, Celtic harp); Aviva Jaye (alto, Celtic harp); Chad Goodridge (baritone)
Musicians: Yishi Weinberg (piccolo, clarinet, flute, pedal harp); Eamon Goodman (flute, bass clarinet, steel guitar); Leah Shaw (bassoon, voice); Alina Eckersley (French horn); Charlie Reed (viola da gamba)
Choreographer: Katy Pyle
Dancers: Jay Beardsley, cove barton, Arzu Salman, MJ Markovitz
Lighting Designer: Yang Yu
Set & Costume Designer: Patricia Marjorie
Sound Designer and Spatial Instrument Designer: Eamon Goodman

Artists featured in cover image: Alaina Ferris, MJ Markovitz, Chad Goodridge, cove barton and Gelsey Bell

Identity and experience interplay through music, movement, and storytelling in The Lydian Gale Parr. This new chamber oratorio, composed by Alaina Ferris with a libretto by Karinne Keithley Syers, details the mission of a protagonist and their truth — the Lydian Gale Parr (hereafter, called the Lydian) — a child emissary on a quest for peace.

Five featured vocalists, five musicians, and four dancers, members of NYC-based company Ballez, create the inviting, emphatic cast.  Audiences view the journey from the intimate Target Margin Theater, where seats stand arranged in a semicircle under a draping white tent. The musicians accompany this setup in the performance space’s “upstage.”

Charlie Reed, Alina Eckersley, Leah Shaw, Eamon Goodman, Yoshi Weinberg, Lacy Rose, Alaina Ferris, Gelsey Bell, MJ Markovitz, Chad Goodridge, cove barton, and Aviva Jaye in The Tank's production of The Lydian Gale Parr. Photo: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

Projections of cities, celestial images, and a glowing, slender tree (a motif to the story) beam onto the tent’s interior. They transport us, allowing us to venture out of the Lydian's city, over rolling plains, and into space.  Delightful and dulcet, a spatial instrument designed by Eamon Goodman hangs above the audience. The instrument, shaped like a halo connected by wires, trills twinkling transitions between the story’s scenes. The sound falls somewhere between the soft clink of two drinking glasses meeting and the ethereal “ding” of a triangle. A brief burst of light, reminiscent of flickering stars,  appears with  each occurrence of this instrument making sound.

In five episodes — some narrative, some reflective — we learn the Lydian’s story.  They departed their home on an egregious errand, seeking  to deliver an all important letter to an enemy general. The letter's contents hold the only solution  to end a ruthless war plaguing the Lydian's city.

The Lydian desperately searches for the general, but to no avail. With each arrival at this commander's supposed location, we discover that they've already departed for another conflict of greater importance. The Lydian's errand proves arduous, and throughout they endure capture, violence, and a dissolving memory of the home city they once knew. The vocalists describe this predicament wistfully in the second scene,  “I give a clear account of nothing… I come from a high-walled city I cannot remember.”

Aviva Jaye and Alaina Ferris in The Tank's 2024 production of The Lydian Gale Parr. Photo: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

Still, the Lydian presses onwards all while taking on many forms. We witness their free manifestation of identities flowing between boy, girl, man, and woman. The character is depicted by multiple artists in the production with different individuals and groups of cast members  proclaiming at alternate times, “I am The Lydian Gale Parr.”

Some scenes present as the Lydian’s memories, such as the third, which tells the story of their childhood. Other moments, such as jubilant dances and the cast’s final commanding songs of unity, add an abstract dimension to the narrative. A program note reads, “A dance displaces the feeling of the letters… taproot into something courtly; further taproot into something beneath the forms and ceremonies of the court.”

Chad Goodridge and Gelsey Bell in The Tank's 2024 production of The Lydian Gale Parr. Photo: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

Everyone moves in the piece. The five vocalists enter and exit the space with deliberate walking patterns. They arrange themselves in lines and circles, gazing at one another and at times directly at the audience. In other moments the vocalists dance with the Ballez artists. The four dancers of Ballez imbue the space with bursts of sweeping, exultant movement. They grasp hands and launch themselves forward, passing one another. They toss their legs high with thrilling suspension, smiling at one another. Their dancing is joyous and crisp.

cove barton, Jay Beardsley, Arzu Salman, and MJ The Tank's 2024 production of The Lydian Gale Parr. Photo: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

Each song details the multiple experiences and memories of the Lydian, offering us all aspects of this character's truth. In the third, reflective scene, the Lydian exclaims, “The letter instructs me to begin again. They always do…Restart, my dear friend…”  Now gestures repeat: palms cup over top of one another. Lengthened arms extend above the head. Fingers spread widely, held above the head like a crown. Each gesture’s execution appears deliberate and regal. There is nobility in continuing the quest for peace despite obstacles.

At the work’s conclusion, the cast describes the Lydian’s transformation beyond their earthly body: “I feel a dissipation…I become a cloud… I turn over as a cloud now, hanging and gathering.” Despite how desperately they wanted their errand to end, they dedicated their life’s entirety to it.

cove barton in The Tank's 2024 production of The Lydian Gale Parr.  Photo: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

The Lydian Gale Parr imaginatively and wholeheartedly embraces the questions and considerations of our time in its multi-layered tale of an identity and gender shifting hero who attempts to save their world from destruction. We are left to consider who we are, what individual letters we carry,  and what messages we intend to deliver to our world.

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