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The Crossing Premieres Choral-Theater Work Aniara: fragments of time and space June 20-23

Aniara art by Elizabeth Haidle.
Aniara art by Elizabeth Haidle.

Philadelphia chamber choir The Crossing contemplates humans’ relationships to Earth, to art, and to one another in Aniara: fragments of time and space. A collaboration with Finnish theater group Klockriketeatern, the choral-theater work premieres at Christ Church Neighborhood House June 20–23, 2019.

With a score composed by Pew Fellow Robert Maggio, the work is based on the 1956 epic science-fiction poem “Aniara: en revy om människan i tid och rum,” written by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson. In the poem, a spaceship departs from a dying Earth but is thrust off its original course and redirected irretrievably toward the distant constellation Lyra. Aniara’s passengers must come to terms with their ambiguous future and the accelerating distance of their past.

“It’s a space journey without an end, filled with human life striving to find a meaning when there is no hope,” says Klockriketeatern artistic director Dan Henriksson.

Developed through a three-year collaboration led by Henriksson and Donald Nally, conductor of The Crossing, Aniara: fragments of time and space incorporates choral performance, ensemble choreography (as well as a dance performance) by Antti Silvennoinen of Wusheng Company, experimental lighting design and video projections by Joonas Tikkanen, sound design by Paul Vazquez of Digital Mission Audio Services, and costumes by Erika Turunen.

Nally says they chose the Neighborhood House specifically for its narrow layout and the opportunity to transform the space. “The whole plan is for it to be very immersive,” Nally says. Audiences will be seated along both sides of the stage, with digitally manipulated drone footage of Icelandic landscapes projected onto the floor and performers’ costumes. Above the stage, kinetic lighting fixtures move and change color in sync with the performers below them.

But despite the enchanting technical flourishes and other multidisciplinary elements, Nally says the choral performance is central to Aniara, because The Crossing is, at its core, a choir. “They are the sun to this piece, around which all the other aspects of it orbit.”

Though Martinson wrote “Aniara” more than 60 years ago, it is “thematically timeless and universal,” Robert Maggio says. “Some of the most important themes to me have to do with our relationship to our planet, with our relationship to one another on that planet, with our relationship to art and to faith. Those are themes that are with us from birth to death.”

After its run in Philadelphia, Aniara: fragments of time and space will be performed at the Haarlem Choral Biennale in the Netherlands July 3-4 and at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki, Finland, September 17-21. Learn more about the project and purchase tickets at The Crossing’s website.