The press release for Greenpoint creative Alison Clancy’s new performance reads “post-punk mystic meets Wagner in ritualistic dance” — tickle me intrigued! A dancer, singer, and all-around-movement artist (and educator), Alison has worked in institutions big and small, from the Metropolitan Opera and Guggenheim Museum to dive bars and on Reality TV. And while her modern methods may seem to clash with the classical music she performs to, they are perhaps more aligned than one may think: Wagner, and his contemporaries, were the envelope pushers of their day; their charged, erotic, and emotional scores demanded more of their audiences, and performers, than what may have been the norm. As such, Clancy’s dance honors and uplifts these heightened states, creating a unified piece of singular performance. She recently made a prestigious solo debut in the premiere of the Met’s new production of Richard Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) Here, she speaks about this new show, which though sadly cancelled due to the coronavirus will also find a home on screens.
Greenpoiners: You’ve lived in Greenpoint for a number of years. What attracted you to the neighborhood and how has it treated you as a resident and artist?
Alison Clancy: I moved here for a boyfriend, but I stayed because I love the mellow energy. It feels like a nice downshift from Manhattan, but there are still so many beautiful people and active culture.
This Met show sounds wild! Can you describe what audiences will come to see?
It’s a giant production involving hundreds of people, from a full orchestra and chorus to tons of crew dudes. The production is set on the rocky shoreline of Scandinavia. In my opening solo scene as the Senta Dancer (an alter ego of the opera’s leading lady), I stare at a portrait of Holländer. In most productions of this opera, Senta is fixated on a small picture, but in this production, the entire border of the Met stage is made to look like a picture frame, and the portrait is a projection of Holländers eye that fills the entire stage. When the curtain rises, you see me as Senta standing alone, center stage on a steep slope, in a red dress. I summon a lightning storm from the ether, and Holländers celestial ghost ship emerges… things progress from there. In Act II, the fierce opera soprano singer Anja Kampe enters to embody the Senta role for the rest of the show.
For folks who haven’t been to The Met, they may not think of it as a home for more avant-garde art. What does it mean for you to be working there?
The Met is home to many of the finest artists on the planet, from the musicians, dancers, and singers to the costume, scenic, and video designers. The expression of these artists varies from traditional to the avant-garde, depending on the particular production. I’m beyond grateful to consider this venerable and sacred place a creative home. It’s an honor to be performing here today, and has been for the past decade.
What have been some of your favorite projects over the years?
I love performing in another Wagner opera, Parsifal, produced by the same creative team as this Der Fliegende Holländer (directed by Francois Girard, with Carolyn Choa as a choreographer.) Parsifal is a five-hour-long opera, and there are 40-minute long improvisational dance sections that both demand and cultivate unique altered states. It can be transcendental. But every minute I’ve spent in this building has had a touch of magic.
Anything coming up that you can discuss/are excited about?
I’m scheduled to perform a concert version of this Senta dance solo at MIT in April. And I’m working on a solo music album that has its own elemental way of summoning storms.
You work at NYU — what do you teach there, and how did that work come about? Is it nice to work as an educator to learn from your students and hopefully inspire a new generation of creatives?
I’m teaching a course called Movement to theater students. I find teaching demands I clarify what is important to me: I have to know what my values are aesthetically, emotionally, and socially in order to communicate them clearly and set a tone for the class environment. Mostly I want my students to become more free in themselves and their physical expression. It’s a joyful experience for everyone in the room when someone discovers something new about what they are capable of.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for helping cultivate local culture. It’s nice to feel like I’m part of a neighborhood.
About Billy McEntee
Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vanity Fair, American Theatre, HowlRound, Observer, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.