Docile Bodies

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An immersive opera that surrounds the audience with sound and story

Inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Writing of the God,” and Boethius’s treatise “The Consolation of Philosophy,” Docile Bodies is an immersive opera created by Ethan Braun (composer), Kenturah Davis (set and costume design), Vikram Devasthali (libretto), and Adam Linder (director). Scored for two singers, electronics, and the 22 musicians of Contemporaneous, Docile Bodies run approximately two hours and will be ready to premiere in the spring of 2021.

Borges’s story tells of a priest whose culture is all but extinct, awaiting execution after his capture by invading forces. In a cell, the priest tries to catalog all the memories of his culture through a simple act of remembrance, and in an ecstatic moment of revelation, a vision comes to him and grants him divine power. The story parallels that of the Roman senator Boethius, who, during his imprisonment by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great, found solace in the days before his execution by writing his work “The Consolation of Philosophy,” a meditation on free will, virtue, and justice.

Working through these interwoven sources of literary, musical, and political inspiration, Docile Bodies explores how the tradition of opera chains the bodies of its composers, performers, and audience members to an array of hierarchies and historical convention — and offers a map to how, as a creator of new work, one might escape these shackles.

The set design for Docile Bodies is a fluid architectural stage, intended to reduce the sense of differentiation between performers and audience. The audience will be invited to explore the space, sitting on specially-installed swinging benches, contributing sound with objects, and moving along with the performers among smaller partitions of the space. Electronic sound and live sampling of the space’s occupants (both performers and audience) will create a kind of auditory hall of mirrors.

At the heart of the stories of both Boethius and Borges is a person, alone in a cell, finding spiritual release in spite of harsh physical detainment. The multi-sensory experience of Docile Bodies will give audiences an intimate experience of this theme, creating an environment similar to those experienced by these imprisoned characters in a way that ultimately inspires a peaceful process of reflection.

Docile Bodies is a project of Contemporaneous IMAGINATION, the ensemble's commissioning initiative which seeks to give voice to the wildest and most meaningful dreams of composers of all backgrounds from around the world.

In short:

  • Creative team:

    • Ethan Braun — composer

    • Kenturah Davis — designer

    • Vikram Devasthali — librettist

    • Adam Linder — director

  • Story inspired by Jorge Luis Borges

  • Duration: 2 hours

  • Instrumentation: two singers with large ensemble and electronics

  • Co-commissioner and world premiere opportunities available beginning in the spring of 2021

Docile bodies Artists

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Ethan Braun — composer

“a diaphonous haze [...] that drifts almost imperceptibly [...] a heady taste of pure weightlessness.... A disappearing act.”
The New York Times

“a sound that these ears — raised on Thurston, Lee et al. — find irresistible.” — The Rambler

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Kenturah Davis — designer

“The core of my work oscillates between portraiture and design, exploring themes related to the body, language and the formation of identity. From rendering a figure by writing a text repetitively to sewing highly individualized uniforms, my work unpacks layers of meaning embedded in how we socialize and perceive one another.”

— Kenturah Davis

 
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Vikram Devasthali — librettist

Adam Linder — director

Booking

For booking inquiries, contact Contemporaneous Executive and Co-Artistic Director Dylan Mattingly at dylan@contemporaneous.org or (510) 333.2543.