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BWW Feature: Open Air Opera: Street Dances Dazzles the Upper West Side

Furloughed artists from the Met Opera come together to present a new live outdoor performance

BWW Feature: Open Air Opera: Street Dances Dazzles the Upper West Side

On Sunday, May 16th, the furloughed artists of the Met Opera came together for an outdoor performance on the Upper West Side called Open Air Opera: Street Dances. Dancers of the Met teamed up with the Met Orchestra and Met Chorus Artists to give the city what it has been craving this past year: live performances. Mixed with dance, opera, and a string quartet, the day was full of beauty, art and most importantly hope with talent from of New York's greatest.

Before the show, which took place in the afternoon, there was a morning full of live demonstrations for the public to enjoy, including small dance classes for children and family. I had the opportunity to watch the show rehearsal, getting an up close look at what goes into such a production, especially after being shut down for so long due to the pandemic. I was in awe of what producers Cesar Abreu, Natalia Alonso, Réka Echerer, and Maria Phegan (all dancers from the Met) had created.

"Open Air Opera was conceived out of a desire to connect directly with our audiences," Cesar Abreu said. "From the moment the opera house closed I thought: There has to be a way for us to still find a way to perform for and present something for our audiences, even if it means going out onto the streets of New York.'"

And the New York Streets were not disappointed. During the rehearsal, people stopped on the street to witness the music and magic of the dancers which were led by choreographers, including Juilliard graduates Michelle Vargo and Belinda McGuire. The very sound of the Met Opera Chorus Soprano Anne Marie Nonnemacher, who was the featured soloist of the show, made people throw open the windows of their apartment to lean out and listen to what so many of us have been missing.

"After a year of very little in person social interaction it was such a healing experience to finally put together an event where we could interact with our community face to face (even if masked- we'll do whatever it takes)," Abreu said. "To me sharing our craft, and what we do as artists is what it's all about. The healing power art has in all our lives is remarkable and it is to be shared, not saved. The response we received was such a great reminder of how special and how impactful what we do really is."

This live outdoor performance comes after a year of merely all online presentations and solo practicing in small New York City apartments, making for a grand impact for the audience but on the dancers as well.

"We have been doing classes through Instagram to have our own connection but we just decided that we wanted to do more than that," dancer and creative committee member Sarah K Marchetti said. "We wanted to keep that connection going, but also do things that we don't always do when we're in the Opera House. Everybody can be so separated with their own parts so this was our chance to really form together."

Producer Reka Echerer agreed that what makes this production so special is not only being able to do it live, but also allowing so many different art forms to to create something unique and special.

"The most amazing part is that we're collaborating with our fellow artists that we don't usually collaborate with," Echerer said. "We usually show up to work, we do our dance, we're told what to do, but now we're right here connecting and creating together."

This performance was the second collaboration of its kind. Back in March, the artists from the Met presented their very first outdoor performance with the women-led organization Arts on Site. While that was a memorable (and sold out) experience, this second rendition proved how quickly everything is changing, and how normalcy is slowly settling back in.

"Our project with Arts on Site was the first time we had come together," Marchetti said. "During that first show, we wanted to keep everyone apart so there were mainly solos with minimal partnering. But now we are able to make contact. I think this is a renewal of appreciation of what we had. The mask isn't fun, but at the same time, we're dancers are we're so adaptable."

Adaptable is the right word. If not only as it pertains to dancers maneuvering through the pandemic, but also as it relates to taking on different roles, such as those dancers who jumped on board to help produce this performance.

"This needed to happen," Echerer said. "I took the initiative just like the others did, and it's beautiful. At some point I thought that I would feel sad that I'm not dancing, but I'm actually really enjoying being on the sidelines. We are giving artists the opportunity to perform. I'm giving my friends opportunity to perform, and that's what I love watching."

Throughout my time with these incredible artists, I felt the excitement in each of them and could hardly contain my own delight in watching them do what they love. The pandemic took our art and culture scene for so long. It was truly an emotional ride witnessing it finally coming back.

"As artists we must create," Abreu said. We also wanted to work on a project that would allow all of us to process all the different emotions we have gone through this year. Art and culture enriches people's lives and I see this as the first 'experiment' of a community engagement programming culminating with a full scale performance series of many more to come. Creating initiatives that celebrate and promote education, diversity, inclusion and equity is at the core of what we are trying to do."

Open Air Opera was part of New York City's new Open Culture program sprawling all five boroughs and providing live art on the streets. To learn more about the Dancers of the Met please visit here.

(Photo courtesy of Jon Taylor)

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