Photo Credit and Copyright: Aran (Ari) Denison 2018

What Dreams May Come from Phillip Glass’ Music

Eugene Ballet opens 40th season with 'Hamlet'

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, we first hear that you haven’t experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read it in Original Klingon. When Eugene Ballet Company has its production of Hamlet, we’ll see if Shakespeare paired with Phillip Glass and told through ballet evokes a similar statement.

In a way, Glass’ work perfectly matches the work of Shakespeare. Glass contains his compositions in a manner similar to the way Shakespeare worked within the confines of rhythm. Stephen Mills, artistic director of Ballet Austin, decided to match the two artists and explore what happens when you add ballet.

The result is the most-licensed and travelled work the Ballet Austin has ever had.

Eugene Ballet Company’s Hamlet opens the company’s 40th year.

Glass doesn’t like his music being called “minimalist.” Instead, he told NPR, he prefers the phrase “music with repetitive structures.” By placing Glass’ work alongside Hamlet, the Shakespearean tragedy is catapulted from the late Middle Ages into a place far more modern.

And that is Mills’ intent.

“My inspiration for putting Hamlet in a contemporary setting is due to the fact that many of themes in the play — murder, betrayal, and more — are still very relevant themes in today’s society,” Mills said in a statement. “For me, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a perfect warning for a contemporary audience about the dangers of unchecked power and the ways in which lives of innocents can be forever changed.”

As implied by Mills’ statement, the production emphasizes the theme of a decayed U.S. And is his assessment wrong? I mean, Donald Trump is really president thanks to the undemocratic system of the Electoral College —  winning the majority of electoral votes but actually losing the popular election is almost like marrying your sister-in-law after your brother dies to get a seat at the throne.

But what about the music?

The production focuses on three of Glass’ works: Anima Mundi, In The Upper Room and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. These compositions aren’t new, and in fact The Upper Room was a ballet. Reflecting on these works does show they could be used to convey the tension within the drama of Hamlet.

Glass’ work — at least for me — come across like anxiety. It’s the neatly composed arpeggios repeated endlessly, followed harsh instrumentation of melody.

Glass portrays modern humanity just as Shakespeare’s work is still relevant in its exploration of the human condition. As long as we have governments and nations, Hamlet will be relevant, and pairing it with Glass just makes sense.

Eugene Ballet Company’s Hamlet runs 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 6, and 2 pm Sunday, Oct. 7, at Hult Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from $15 to $66. 

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