A fine mist fills the interior of Calvary Presbyterian Church for the evening’s performance of Utterance. Milwaukee Opera Theatre gracefully slides a soothing presence into the beautiful interior of the red brick church across the street and paces down from the central library on Wisconsin Avenue. On my way in, I’m handed a program and told to sit in the labyrinth. There is the murmur of a tidy, voluminous opening night crowd gathered into a circle beneath the high ceiling. It’s a piece on ancient prophecies. Childbirth is seen as eternal burning in the heart of ancient compositions that freshly cascade into contemporary aesthetics in a grand space. The work of 16th century composer Orlande de Lassus mixes with that of his modern counterpart Amanda Schoofs in a brief evening’s beauty.
The performers enter in around the edges of the central circle. They’re wearing black with jangled shocks of white highlights. Bare feet tread the wooden floors in somber movements that seem to respect some kind of sacred ritual from long before any kind of organized religion. They seem to be there to vocally conjure some distant moody, saturnine world or plane of existence with the aid of cleverly crafted photonics which move through the mists courtesy of AntiShadows.
The vocals are sung in graceful intensity with clean, crisp movements around the central hub of performance space. Loving embraces occasionally pass between performers. There’s more than song, light and color filtering through the the moment accompanied by subtle clicks and hums of mist machines at the edges of the church. There’s a strangely elegant alchemy of movement and ritual. A large vessel is presented. Performers take turns laying down a circle of a large-grained white powder. In slow, steady movements an ensō closes around the vocalists. There’s a grand depth of abstract meaning at the heart of it all that transcends any sort of constructed meaning, reaching right into the heart of raw human instinct.
In walks a woman dressed entirely in white with black stripes. The blindfold she’s wearing is black. The ritual continues with a two performers dutifully transferring a thick white cream or milk from vessel to vessel until the moment arrives to consume it. Deep emotions connect through light, sound, movement and motion.
There’s a symbolic foundation here of prophecies and oracles and things that are tied into the ancient myths which feed into the larger tapestry of storytelling that goes back to the dawn of time, but none of that matters in the substance of the moment. The abstraction of form and grace in a grand space has a powerful resonance that goes beyond any one story. Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Utterance is one of those rare trips to the raw, primordial essence of life that engages on a level well beyond logic and linear thought.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Utterance runs for three more performances: Oct. 30 and 31st at 8:00 p.m. and Oct. 31st at 5:30 p.m. For ticket reservations, visit Brown Paper Tickets online. All shows take place at Calvary Presbyterian Church on 628 N. 10th St, Milwaukee.