Emio Greco/PC's '[Purgatorio] Popopera' at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

In a work by an Amsterdam-based company, the dancers also play electric guitars during 75 minutes inspired by Dante's writing.
In a work by an Amsterdam-based company, the dancers also play electric guitars during 75 minutes inspired by Dante's writing. (By Igor Mendizabal)
By Lisa Traiger
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, September 18, 2009

If you like your philosophical conundrums straight up, there are libraries filled with musings about the meaning of life. But if you'd rather season your philosophy with something a little less weighty, say dance and electric guitar, then the Emio Greco/PC troupe just might provide the recipe.

Greco, an Italian dancer, choreographer and, yes, philosopher of sorts -- in partnership with Dutch theater director Pieter Scholten -- makes dance and theater works that question what life's all about. Their latest work, "[Purgatorio] Popopera," has its area premiere Thursday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Greco describes the piece as "curiosity of the body and its inner motives that form the starting point for creating dance." Head scratcher? Perhaps. But there's something vital and thought provoking in the way Greco's five dancer-musicians and one singer overpower a stage. Critics from Seattle to Sydney have lauded the Amsterdam-based company for its dynamism, its mixture of classical ideas and contemporary vocabularies, its eccentricity and ferocity.

Inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy," "[Purgatorio] Popopera" is Greco and Scholten's second work in a dance-based triptych, which began with Dante's "Inferno" and concludes in 2011 with "Paradiso."

"It's not that we take Dante's storyline then translate that to images," Greco says. "Dante is an inspiration, and the choreography is about the story of the body."

For Greco and Scholten, purgatory is a place that's rough-hewn, even primitive, and yet, as the pair found in Dante's writing, there's music, song and beauty amid the chaos. "The purgatory for Dante was a place of transition," Greco says. "It was a place that was almost singing. Our pop opera is a journey where the dancers are surrounded by singing and music. There's a constant resonance."

And the dancers themselves are multi-instrumentalists. Their bodies are their primary instruments, but they also play electric guitars throughout the 75-minute piece. Vocalist Michaela Riener contributes a Bach aria while the dancer-musicians play an edgy, hard-hitting sound.

"All this," Greco says, "makes the pop opera a transition place: something pop, something cultivated, something that will go through changes. Like Dante says, nothing about this will stay the same forever."

Ultimately, Scholten says, "[Purgatorio] Popopera" is about life. "And when I say life, I mean it's about suffering," he says. "And that's exactly what's happening during the pop opera itself. The performers are working very hard to play these two instruments: the guitar and their own bodies. You can see the joy and the suffering at the same time."

[Purgatorio] Popopera Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Kay Theatre. University of Maryland, Route 193 and Stadium Drive, College Park. 301-405-2787. http://www.claricesmithcenter.umd.edu Thursday and Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. There will be a discussion with the artists after each performance. For age 18 and older. $37.

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