Director Michael Butler and set designer Guilio Cesare Perrone realized the imaginary realm of Illyria as Spanish Iberia in a flamenco-infused production of Twelfth Night at Silicon Valley's San Jose Repertory Theatre.
"Twelfth Night is Shakespeare's most musical play, and its subtitle, What You Will, seems to give license to interpretation," says Butler. "Illyria is more a state of mind than a geographic place. I've always thought of flamenco as the most exciting dance form, and it seemed like a perfect emotional springboard for the piece."
Butler selected Italian expatriate Perrone, who came to the US in 1995, for "the imagination and daring of Guilio's work," which includes a Drama-Logue-winning set for Goldoni's The Liar at the Laguna Playhouse, along with designs for Festival Opera, Opera San Jose, the San Diego Playhouse, and ACT.
"For Twelfth Night, Guilio transformed the stage into a gigantic wooden wave, like a surrealistic piece of folk art," says Butler. Perrone's design married a decrepit 24' sailboat with a wooden pier downstage and a curved backdrop of wood and corrugated iron reaching high into the rafters. A curving wooden staircase connected the wrecked ship's deck to the pier.
"Michael wanted a modern look that reflected our contemporary era, and that would make as strong a statement as the flamenco singing and dancing," says Perrone, whose set was built entirely with recycled materials from a building salvage yard. The pier incorporated cut-down telephone poles, while the corrugated iron had been part of a barn.
"A real boat onstage creates an entirely different feeling from a prop that's been built and aged, and I want to stir up feelings and memory in the audience," says Perrone, who has designed three previous productions using all-recycled materials and likens his work to "the Dada movement, which made art from the scraps of our society. You also can buy much more material, though it may be difficult to work with, because you have to clean it and get it in shape."
With an extensive use of colored gels and gobos, lighting designer James Aitken transformed the deck of the boat into a balcony and a bedroom. Electric blue light streaming from a previously dark hole in the boat's side became the window of a cell where Malvolio was imprisoned. Lighting enabled the canvas sail to serve as a canopy and a backlit scrim where flamenco dancers performed in silhouette.
Bay Area choreographer Yaelisa set out to dispel flamenco's "stereotypical images of castanets and swirling skirts" by staging full-blown production numbers with a four-person ensemble from her Solera Flamenco Dance Company. "Some of the most sophisticated interplay in the world happens when a flamenco dancer, a singer, and a guitarist are interacting, improvising and burning holes into each other's consciousness," says Yaelisa, who danced with Omri Dahan while accompanied onstage by singer El Grillo (Jose Manuel Blanco), plus musical director and guitarist Jason McGuire. Shakespeare's song verses were replaced with a mixture of classic flamenco songs like "Buleras," and new works penned by Spanish-born El Grillo, who also played Feste. McGuire's nimble guitar provided incidental and interstitial music throughout the production. Bringing this music to the audience was sound designer Jeff Mockus.
The eclectic garb conceived by costume designer Shigeru Yaji ran the gamut from authentic to outlandish--which was exemplified by the dandyish double-breasted suit worn by Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Mark Fish). To depict Olivia (Natalie Venetia Belcon) and Malvolio's (Remi Sandri) transformation from austere propriety to love-crazed recklessness, neon-bright flamenco and toreador costumes replaced their somber black apparel during the intermission.
Artistic director Timothy Near credits some of the production's success to the Rep's spacious new home in downtown San Jose, a post-modern, three-story edifice that opened last November. "The large stage and grand scale sweep you away to an enchanted seaport, where flamenco dance and music express the huge passions of the inhabitants and their visitors," she says.