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Two sisters bring you into their vision of Chopin’s “Awakening”

Dance & Other Behaviors present a multidisciplinary new work under the arch June 23–26.

The creative process often pulls upon many reference points to derive inspiration and energy. For Jessica and Jennifer Pray, a work of literature brought them from different artistic disciplines to collaborate and create within a shared vision. They will present two new original works at The Southern Theater as a part of ARTshare.

The Beginning of Things” and “Fictions” will be an immersive experience, and so we interviewed the sisters about their creative process to bring viewers into a more intimate understanding about how Kate Chopin’s novel “The Awakening” brought a connection between Jess’s operatic soprano voice and the movement and choreography of Jenn’s ballet and contemporary perspective.

: Could you each speak a little bit about how you work together to create, and how you see it manifesting in this work?

Jessica & Jennifer Pray: Back in 1997, seven year-old Jenn came up with the idea of writing her own version of Hansel and Gretel, and enlisted little sister Jess to play Gretel. Costumes, painted foam sets, props, and unsuspecting neighbor kids were rounded up and invitations sent to the neighbors. Thus began The Neighborhood Playhouse, a company spearheaded by Jenn and assisted by Jess for eight more consecutive summers. Moving from the grassy backyard to the professional stage, The Neighborhood Playhouse laid the foundation for Jenn's co-direction of Dance & Other Behaviors with fellow artist and co-director Jordan Lee Thompson. Jenn has always led these creative works, and finds inspiration for her works with Jordan through literature, music, or just from her own life or hearing other people's stories. Jess is always eager to join in in whatever way possible, usually providing vocals, and this time is also playing piano during the production. We not only have a connection as sisters, but also as professional artists and teachers in our own fields. We love blending the two worlds of opera and dance, and each have distinct ideas that we bring to the stage.

Included below are early production photos and quotes from Chopin’s novel “The Awakening” selected by Jenn and Jess with their interpretations of the text as it relates to “The Beginning of Things”.

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Photo by Bill Cameron. Tickets on our website.

“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!” — Kate Chopin

Jenn: This quote is said by Jess during the show, and it is the crux of what our piece is about. Both tangled and vague, the story of the awakening that the character Edna goes through is one that doesn't come easily, but is so necessary to her personal fulfillment.

“‘Are you tired?’ he asked. ‘Yes, and chilled, and miserable. I feel as if I had been wound up to a certain pitch--too tight--and something inside of me had snapped.’” — Kate Chopin

Jess: This quote was great imagery for a scene that Jenn choreographed. Using Jess' vocals, creeping up higher and higher in pitch as Jenn intensifies her movements. Voice and movement are wound up until both snap, and break into quiet.

“Mr. Pontellier… could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.” — Kate Chopin

Jess & Jenn: We love this quote because as Edna pulls away her fictitious self and reveals her new being within, the people who knew her recognize her less. This was more imagery for us to use in a scene when Jenn literally pulls at herself, removing layers and revealing her true, "awakened" self underneath.

“One piece which the lady played Edna had entitled “Solitude.” It was a short, plaintive, minor strain. The name of the piece was something else, but she called it “Solitude.” When she heard it there came before her imagination the figure of a man standing beside a desolate rock on the seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him.” — Kate Chopin

Jenn: Jess is the lady in this scene, and actually plays a prelude pulled directly from the book, Prelude in a minor by Chopin. Using the actual pieces from the book in the production was something we wanted, as it made it more poignant.

Jess: Jenn says part of this quote during the show, and the man in this statement is similar to her. How she wishes she could be that bird and fly away.

: What makes this performance special for you, what are you feeling about this show?

Jess & Jenn: This performance is something that has been in the works since Jenn first read the book. After reading the book, both of us were moved by how relevant these themes are in our own lives, and how scandalous they must have been at the turn of the century. We are excited to be able to bring this book to life on the stage, as it has not been portrayed much before by other mediums.

: Do you have an personal aspirations for the show, other than the obvious?

Jess: We hope that both “Fictions” and “The Beginning of Things” will change the way people usually think of dance and theater. By creating something that brings storytellers on stage during a dance production, as well as bringing audience members on stage, we think our stories will be better served and have more meaning for everyone involved.

: Immersive theatre is still new to many people, can you speak to the mechanics of the performance?

Jenn: We have created the work to be best enjoyed in an intimate setting directly on stage, and we love that this most likely will be a new experience for the audience and for us, too. We can't wait to hear how the both pieces speak to our audiences, as that is one of the rewards of crafting new work.

Dance & Other Behaviors, presents “The Beginning of Things” at The Southern Theater in Minneapolis. The evening includes the premiere of “Fictions”, a collection of four stories that each begin rooted in real-life experiences, but venture into where our minds create meaning out of mystery. Tickets are available on the Southern’s website.

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Jess is an opera singer currently pursuing a Master of Music in Opera Performance at the Yale School of Music, studying with Doris Yarick-Cross. She has performed with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, Old Capitol Opera, Martha Ellen-Tye Opera Theatre, Yale Opera, and has been a soloist for the Yale Symphony Orchestra.

Jenn is a dancer, choreographer, and teacher in the Twin Cities, and is currently a company member with Threads Dance Project, by Karen Charles, and STRONGmovement, by Darrius Strong. She has performed professionally with Ballet Minnesota, Live Action Set, Kinetic Evolutions, and as a professional guest artist with James Sewell Ballet, Ballet Arts Youth Ensemble, & Iowa Dance Theatre.

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