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Requiem: Journeys of the Soul for LEEDS 2023

Opera North and Phoenix Dance Theatre join forces with South African partners Jazzart Dance Theatre and Cape Town Opera to present a powerful, staged re-imagining of Mozart’s iconic Requiem, taking place as part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture.

Opening at Leeds Grand Theatre on Friday 26 May with performances until Sunday 4 June, Requiem follows the success of previous collaborations between the two Leeds-based companies, The Rite of Spring (2019) and West Side Story Symphonic Dances (2021). The beauty and raw emotive power of this production combines both Mozart’s awe-inspiring choral masterpiece and a newly commissioned work by South African composer Neo Muyanga with the intensely expressive physicality of two leading contemporary dance ensembles.

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Phoenix Dance Theatre dancers in rehearsal for Requiem with Teige Bisnought elevated © Point of View Photography

Mozart’s fascinating final work, the Requiem is a funeral mass composed shortly before his own death at the age of 35. It is a work that vividly confronts human mortality in music of unearthly beauty, taking audiences on a journey of the soul from the agony of loss to the terror of judgement and the freedom of redemption. The production, conceived during the COVID-19 pandemic, takes Mozart’s music as an act of remembrance, honouring those we have lost – and examining what life means for those left behind in a reflective and hopeful expression of the beauty, brutality and brevity of life.

Led by the creative team of Phoenix Dance Theatre guest choreographer and former artistic director Dane Hurst, Opera North Music Director Garry Walker, and co-designers Joanna Parker and Peter Mumford, Requiem will be performed by dancers from the ensembles of Phoenix Dance Theatre and Jazzart Dance Theatre, the full Orchestra and 36 singers of the Chorus of Opera North, and four guest singers.

Dorna Ashory in rehearsal for Requiem © Point of View Photography

The second half of the double bill, After Tears: After a Requiem is a new composition by Neo Muyanga for choir and chamber orchestra, conceived as a response to Mozart’s Requiem. Choreographed by Jazzart Dance Theatre Artistic Director Dane Hurst for dancers from Jazzart Dance Theatre and Phoenix Dance Theatre, this new work will invoke South African cultural traditions on the themes of collective loss, the rituals of mourning and remembrance, and celebration of life. It will offer a vibrant contemporary counterpoint to the classical elegance of Mozart’s choral lament.

Choreographer Dane Hurst, comments:

“It is an incredible privilege and a great gift to be creating this new work with a team of artists and partners across the UK and South Africa. It will be a deeply moving event that honours and elevates the immense beauty, strength and fragility of life after a prolonged period of loss and darkness experienced by all since the start of the pandemic in 2020. It is a humble and sacred offering, a coming together in acknowledgement and celebration of the illuminating light of the souls who have passed onto the next journey of life and a ceremony in preparation for our continuing journey ahead.”

Phoenix Dance Theatre dancers in rehearsal for Requiem © Point of View Photography

Richard Mantle, General Director of Opera North, comments:

“This year is promising to be one to remember for culture in Leeds, and this collaboration will be an unmissable experience. We are thrilled to be joining forces once again with the brilliant dancers of our neighbours Phoenix Dance Theatre, and to be creating a truly international work alongside our South African partners Jazzart Dance Theatre and Cape Town Opera. Mozart’s Requiem is a definitive classical work, which will be excitingly brought to new life by Dane Hurst’s choreography and the musical forces of the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North. To respond to this iconic Requiem, we have commissioned a new work, After Tears, from Neo Muyanga, one of the pre-eminent South African contemporary composers, which will receive its world premiere here in Leeds as part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture.”

Composer Neo Muyanga comments

“I am delighted to be working on a new piece in response to Mozart’s Requiem with so many partners in both the UK and South Africa. My new work, After Tears, laments the palpable sense of loss after the dream of a utopia has been deferred. The work is a rallying call for individual citizens to work collectively, with empathy, to rebuild after a period of distress and loss. It envisages this collective work is a vibrant ‘after tears party’ where the blues of mourning are submerged and constrained by the reverie of a cleansing ceremony.”

Requiem runs at Leeds Grand Theatre from Friday 26 May until Sunday 4 June. The production is being performed as part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture with generous support from The Linbury Trust. 

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