Hundreds of shoes lined a small space outside of the Redwood Hall Dance Studio on Saturday, as patrons prepared to watch a CSUN Opera Theatre performance of “The Bewitched Child,” a one act opera by Maurice Ravel.
Guests in attendance were asked to remove their shoes before entering the dance studio, as the special dance floor is easily damaged and scuffed. Bare feet, white socks and some funky stockings were in high abundance, but nothing about the show stunk.
The opera is formally known as L’enfant et les sortileges, which translates to “The child and the spells,” or “the bewitched child.” The CSUN Opera Department worked in coordination with students from the CSUN dance department, creating a highly-detailed work that showcased the tremendous talent of many CSUN performing arts students.
The protagonist of the story is a disobedient child, played by Charlie Kim. The child is reprimanded by his mother for not completing his chores and the child throws a tantrum, destroying the room around him. The unhappy objects in his room come to life, including the grandfather clock he has broken and his arithmetic homework.
The child is stunned and frightened, and discovers the animals and plants outside of his home also come to life. All of the objects in the play display their deep dissatisfaction with the child, and become outraged when the child recoils and calls out for his mother. They attack the child but in the flurry of the brawl, a squirrel is cut. The child bandages the squirrel, and moved by a show of empathy, the objects return the child to his mother.
The performance took place in a small dance studio, with a neat rectangle of chairs surrounding the middle of the room. With very few props and costumes, the performers relied on their enchanting movements and strong vocal presence to carry the weight of the opera.
Dressed in white pajamas, the cast enraptured the audience with their enigmatic and intense portrayal of the many household objects the child had abused. In one particular scene, the grandfather clock, played by Daniel Cheng, heaved and huffed rigidly around the room, ticking in time to the heavily-punctuated music.
Maurice Ravel wrote separate music for each character of the play, and it became evident as the music changed from stiff and staccato to airy and random, as different objects expressed their anger with the child.
Every actor in the play was studied in their movements and expression, like the child, who stomped about the ground, cried for his mother and created mayhem. The willow tree, played by Vanessa Salata, sat upright on a small ladder, her posture erect and attentive, moaning in pain as her branches were cut off. Even the fire, played by Amy Pineau, came out of the fireplace with intense fluidity, her arms serving as flames, licking the air as she writhed around and captivated with her beautiful yet brooding voice.
“The challenge was that each character only had a small amount of time to become themselves, but they did it well,” said David Aks, Music Director of the CSUN Opera Theater.
Aks said that the group started rehearsing in early January, and had no budget to work with.
“This is the most bare bones production (of the Bewitched Child), hence the intimate studio setting, but it came out very well. I find a really nice synergy between the two departments,” he said.
The choreography of the performance was the brainchild of Evan Rosenblatt, a junior kinesiology major who began dancing three semesters ago.
“I kept the focus of the movement on the singers. It was (based on) the intent behind the characters, and the devil child. It was about letting the breath take the movement,” said Rosenblatt.
Rosenblatt had a dance solo within the act and impressed the audience with his graceful movement and ease of style.
“It was really about finding the inner movement, and then adding textures, like wings moving. It’s a neat group of performers – the attitude is fun,” he said.
At the end of the performance, the audience clapped heartily and raved about the phenomenal voices and dancers showcased throughout the opera.
“I thought the choreography was wonderful,” said Carolyn Barbian, an associate professor of kinesiology who has worked at CSUN since 1968.
“I loved the juxtaposition of the dancers coming in and out – there was no weak link in the performance,” she said.
“The Bewitched Child” ran through the weekend of Feb. 8th, and ended with a final show on Sunday, Feb. 10.
“I hope that we can do more stuff like this,” said Rosenblatt.
“It’s really fun – it’s exciting.”