NORMAN — Narrating the development of a living world full of countless elements and beings, the story of the creation within the Old Testament has been retold countless times.
Now, a group of Norman artists are collaborating to illustrate the ageless story through music, word and dance.
The Norman Philharmonic, in conjunction with University of Oklahoma Choirs and members of the Oklahoma Festival Ballet, will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation” with ballet for the first time in America.
Though Haydn’s symphonic music has been played the world over, Norman Philharmonic Artistic Director Richard Zielinski said setting it to dance is a new concept.
“I’ve done this piece before. I’ve done it several times. But when I look at it, it’s like a new creation for me,” he said, on the fresh take on Haydn’s piece.
The idea to collaborate on the piece began a year and a half ago, Zielinski said, but rehearsals did not commence until February.
The ballet was choreographed from scratch by Mary Margaret Holt, director and choreographer, with choreographer Steve Brule for the Oklahoma Festival Ballet. Teaching the 19 dancers on a time crunch has been a challenge, she said.
Holt said the cast of dancers — including principals Jammie Walker, Nicole Reehorst, Melanie Jensen, Zeek Wright, Brett Young and Nathan Young — anticipate creating a moving and entertaining show for the audience.
“Although the music is exceptional and certainly stands on its own, the addition of dance adds an emotional and expressive element not usually found in presentations of ‘The Creation,’” Holt said. “We hope the audience will be carried away by the musicians, singers and dancers combining their talents to bring Haydn’s work to our stage.”
Dancers will perform to the Norman Philharmonic’s live music, alongside performances from soloists soprano Donna Mitchell-Cox, tenor Bradley Williams and bass-baritone Todd Donovan, as well as OU Combined Choirs.
The narration — derived from the books of Genesis and Psalms, as well as John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” — will be sung by soloists in English, as dancers illustrate the scenes.
Mary Lyn Graves, a dancer in the ensemble, said the combined artistic avenues of the piece provides an energy that resonates with the dancers, and she’s sure will excite the audience.
“We kind of switch roles a lot because the music goes from the very beginning when nothing is formed and we’re kind of just beings,” she said, as she described the progress of the performance. “It develops and at different times I portray a bird or a sea, the land and a bunch of different roles.”
Even though she doesn’t describe herself as a religious person, Graves said Haydn’s piece has something for everyone.
“For me, beyond religion, it’s also about the idea of creation as a process,” she said. “And the process of taking things that are really unfinished and truly chaotic and creating something that’s beautiful in the end and the steps that you go through with that.”
Zielinski agreed — though the performance has much value religiously, it speaks of universal truths for people from any background.
“We live in a pretty magnificent world,” he said. “It’s nice to be reminded of that beauty.”
Walter Reicher, artistic director of the internationally acclaimed Haydn Festival and guest lecturer before the concerts, said describing Haydn’s music is simple: “Haydn makes you happy.”
Because he loves Haydn so much, Reicher loved the idea of having a group of Norman musicians and dancers perform “The Creation” at the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria, in August.
Reicher said performers will present “The Creation” complete with ballet for the first time in Haydn Hall of Esterházy Palace — a place near Haydn’s home where his work had been heard throughout Haydn’s lifetime.
An opportunity to see the origins of a world class piece of music is a unique experience for any musician, he said.
“It is a proven experience that artists that have performed at the Haydn Festival, differently and more profoundly understand and interpret Haydn’s immortal music than before,” he said.
And that, he said, is an experience that can continue to create inspiration.
If you go
What: Haydn’s The Creation, by Norman Philharmonic, OU Combined Choirs and Oklahoma Festival Ballet
Where: OU Sharp Concert Hall, 500 W. Boyd St.
When: 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 3 p.m. on Sunday
Cost: $10. Tickets can be purchased from the Fine Arts Box Office at 405-325-4101. For more information on the Norman Philharmonic visit www.normanphil.com.
Note: Educational lectures will be given by Walter Reicher, artistic director of the internationally acclaimed Haydn Festival in Austria, one hour before each show.