A Day At The Beach: Opera in the sand brings complex message to Momentary

A Day At The Beach: Opera in the sand brings complex message to Momentary

Simply described, Cynthia Post Hunt begins, “Sun & Sea” is a contemporary opera, sung in English, with singing performers lounging on a sandy beach while the audience views from above.

Lapelytė (from left), Barzdžiukaitė and Grainytė (Photo by Andrej Vassilenko, courtesy of the artists)

“More complexly,” she continues, “‘Sun & Sea’ offers a glimpse into daily life, full of the mundane and the surreal. It offers the paradox of going about our lives, laying in the sun, planning trips, talking about nothing — while the world is burning, drowning, and life (various species) is going extinct — this is what we do every day.”

And the audience, Post Hunt reveals, looks down on humanity from the viewpoint of the sun — watching, observing, quite possibly asking ourselves, “Is there anything I can do or should do, to change our course? How do I personally take responsibility for the future and for our planet?”

Post Hunt is the programmer for theater and dance at Bentonville’s multidisciplinary arts space the Momentary, and she could not be more excited for the venue to host “Sun & Sea” Oct. 6-9. The project is the international award-winning, ambitious vision of three artists coming together from different crafts to explore climate change and consumerism with complex layers of nuance and subtlety.

Art installation, opera and theater culminate in a piece of performance art that has transformed the interior tower space at the heart of the Momentary into a tangible beach scene with more than 25 tons of sand, plus a few dozen beachgoers comprising both touring cast and community members.

“The initial intuition under the singing beach was the parallel between our bodies, which are fragile and mortal, and our bigger, cosmic body of Earth, which is also fragile,” explains filmmaker, theater artist and director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė. “It got a fever and crave for the deserved holiday, but it is not allowed. This parallel brought us to the topic of climate change.”

After realizing the singing beach would somehow tackle the topic of ecology, the trio ended up being “totally perplexed as ecology is quite a complex and alarming problem,” reveals writer, playwright and poet Vaiva Grainytė.

How could it be put into lines and became a narrative? What should these beach bodies tell/sing? Who are they? How could the artists convey their concept in an effective and subtle manner without being didactic and prophetic?

“The starting point was to employ the method of ‘zooming in,’ that is to say, instead of exposure of anonymous, utter ecological disaster, we, on the contrary, hear personal, from the first glance — mundane — stories of various characters,” Grainytė says of the work’s development. “The mosaic of these micro narratives collectively reflect on the hedonistic passiveness and ironically reveal the joyful consumption (situation of the holidays serves as a perfect setup for this) of homo sapiens.”

“Sun & Sea” comes to the Momentary from the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and before that, its U.S. debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 2019, the installation stunned audiences at the Venice Biennale, earning the all-female creative team the fair’s coveted top prize, the Golden Lion.

“There are themes that, although subtle, find their way to the surface in ‘Sun & Sea,’” shares Cynthia Post Hunt, programmer for theater and dance at the Momentary. “One that fascinates me is the relationship between the individual body and the collective body. Each one of the performers is an individual body on the beach, and then the beach is somewhat of a body of the earth.” (Performance of ‘Sun & Sea’ at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo by Andrej Vassilenko, courtesy of the artists)

Barzdžiukaitė and Grainytė, along with artist, musician and composer Lina Lapelytė, first collaborated on another contemporary opera — “Have a Good Day!” — wherein they considered cycles of consumerism, capitalism and the thoughts of the supermarket cashiers ringing up all those goods. While their next project together took the artists from a small Lithuanian grocery store to a busy beach, they realized the varying spaces reflected an unexpected similarity.

“The work (we later discovered) was continuing the theme of consumerism and the collective voice, but this time taking the topic further — the consumption of the planet earth and the joy of it,” Lapelytė points out.

“Ultimately, there is a beautiful complexity to ‘Sun & Sea,’” Post Hunt concludes. “And when you come experience it, I encourage you to take your time — observe, listen, reflect. The attention to detail (planned) and the openness to liveness (unexpected) is what makes this work so incredible. You will not be disappointed!”



‘Sun & Sea’:

An opera performance by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė

WHEN — Half-hour performances between 2 and 6 p.m. through Oct. 9

WHERE — The Momentary, 600 Museum Way in Bentonville

COST — $16-$20

INFO — 418-5700, themomentary.org

Categories: Music