The London Sinfonietta’s composer Tansy Davies and libretto Nick Drake have created a site-specific immersive opera at Printworks London. Taking place from Wednesday 20th to Saturday 23rd June, the performance promises to offer a groundbreaking look at a grieving father’s quest to connect with his lost daughter. We caught up with Nick and Tansy to discover more:
Cave is set in an underworld of spirits. You’re clearly interested in the limits between reality and non-reality. How much does Cave play with this notion of liminality?
Tansy: Cave is about Skin. The skin between life and death, the skin between humans and animals, the relationship between father and daughter. The cave goes through several phases of being imagined by the father whose lost his daughter and he’s remembering her. There’s a sense of things being apparently there, but not there. Half-there you might say.
Cave is also about the relationship we have with nature. The performance isn’t just about grief and loss. It’s about gaining through wisdom. In Cave we discover a portal into an ancient belief-system where humans understood life through interacting with nature much more. Caves were traditionally a place to seek survival, to solve problems and talk to nature. It’s a very positive message.
Did you choose Printworks as your venue because it reflected an ‘otherworldly’ parallel space?
Tansy: Printworks works well due to its vast sense of history. There’s been an activity in the space that has now past. It’s inhabited in a different way now. It’s grown a different skin. It’s like an urban cave. We’re trying to recreate a sense of a womb-like space- where the audience and performer come together to experience something intimate.
Nick: Printworks’ urban architecture is a beautiful context for what we’re trying to do.
Your main character in Cave is a Shamanic figure. What role did Printworks play in the narrative set-up of someone who is caught between the margins?
Nick: He is a shamanic figure but he’s also a father who has come to this place because it’s very meaningful. He’s come out of a world that has been pretty much destroyed by what we now call Climate Change. So he’s also mourning the loss of nature. He’s come to this space because it’s the last place that meant a lot to both him and his daughter. He’s trying to bring her back for a moment. This place is a sacred place; a place of magic. It’s a place where the skin of the building speaks of ghosts and spirits. It’s perfect for us.
Cave builds connections between the characters and their environment. How well does Printworks work as a venue for performers to interact with the space?
Tansy: It’s a very suggestive space- it has a sense of a Cathedral in its dimensions. The acoustics are so good- it’s to die for really. It’s one of the best acoustics I’ve heard. So that’s the wonderful way that musicians will enjoy interacting with the venue.
Nick: It’s a very unusual thing for an audience to enter into a space like this. For our audience to come from the outside world and then find themselves in a dark cavernous space, it’s a brilliant situation for them to understand the cave context.
Fundamental to Cave are its live acoustics. How different do these sound in Printworks as opposed to a traditional venue such as a grand opera house or concert hall?
Tansy: Every performance space is difference. Every room is an instrument. You’re always playing a duet with the space. Printworks is entirely different to the rehearsal space. It’s soft yet very clear.
In an industrial-canvas like Printworks, how easy was it to transform the venue with your audio-visuals?
Nick: It works beautifully with a mix of live instruments and electronics. In terms of the look, the designer’s didn’t need to intervene with Printworks’ natural aesthetic very much. The building is the essence of the design. The performance area hums with the power of the building.
As an immersive opera being created by a whole Royal Opera team, Cave is clearly breaking ground. Is Printworks a space that is ripe for experimentation?
Tansy: It’s perfect for the piece. It’s a very flexible space that could be used in lots of different ways.
Nick: It’s great to experiment with opera and to take it away from traditional venues where you have a very defined audience. Taking away from those traditional environments and into Printworks allows the relationship between audience and performers to be more powerful and more intimate.
How did you find the logistics of putting on an immersive performance piece in a warehouse environment rather than a traditional theatre?
Tansy: It’s been very easy getting in and out of this space. Everyone here has been extremely helpful