Music Editor, Pippa Smith, sat down with Naomi Woo and Sasha Amaya, the students behind the performance company Tick Tock, who are performing an operatic adaptation of Anne Sexton’s poetry entitled A Certain Sense of Order in London on 7 March.
TCS: What is tick tock? What are the company’s artistic aims?
Naomi Woo: tick tock is an interdisciplinary ideas and performance lab dedicated to sonic and choreographic arts, and working at the intersection of thought and practice. Effectively, this means we might produce opera, dance, physical theatre, music, or even academic work. Our work is unified not only by common themes, but also by our process-oriented and collaborative approach—which also means that our goals change from project to project!
TCS: What drew you to Anne Sexton’s poetry in particular to use as a source material for A Certain Sense of Order?
Sasha Amaya: Last summer, we discovered Catherine Kontz’s music online. We were really intrigued by it and we contacted Catherine to see if she would be interested in a collaboration. Her work is striking, both sonically and physically, but it has a wide range: the ideas we initially floated were diverse but included the possibility of exploring doubles and mirrors — themes by which we were intrigued but also played out at a manageable scale for production.
Naomi: Around the same time, we discovered a book by Dawn M. Skorczewski that discussed Anne Sexton’s poetry alongside transcripts from her therapy sessions. This seemed a great starting point for the themes we were interested in studying! We saw doubles and mirrors reflected in the creation of the self through therapy, the process of identification with the therapist, the similarities and differences between therapeutic and poetic practice, and so on and so forth… And of course, the project has now taken on a life of its own!
TCS: Why are sound and music so important to you as an element of performance and how do you try to demonstrate this in your concerts?
Naomi: As a practicing musician, I enjoy this opportunity to explore relationships between sound and ideas, sound and text, and sound and movement. So often in classical music, the presence of our bodies and minds is taken for granted—music is assumed to be abstract and objective. Many of our projects work against this: at The Uses of Utopia, for example, we commissioned a piece from Louis d’Heudières in which the singers verbally described musical clips that they were hearing through headphones, while also moving around in space. To me, the removal of the actual sounds helped emphasise the subjectivity and transience of all musical experience.
Sasha: I grew up studying music, and now, working in movement and direction, it is still one of the elements that excites me most. Operas are really thrilling in the possibilities they give to explore music and movement. To move through and with music in a simultaneously physically and sonically robust way is one of the real joys of opera, I think.
TCS: For this piece you and Sasha have collaborated with Catherine Kontz — how do you think this has altered or enhanced the signature tick tock style you have worked to create?
Sasha: Working with Catherine has been incredible! She’s so intelligent, and knowledgeable, and experienced, and at the same time genuinely playful and really open to new ideas. The three of us have really come to this project as equals (which has been a privilege as we admire Catherine very much): we absolutely have different assets but we’ve really taken part and shared thoughts on pretty much everything. It’s definitely enriched our applied sense of interdisciplinary creation: we each have our disciplines and strengths but we are, additionally, required to step up to listen, be sensitive to, and discuss every facet.
Naomi: I can’t agree more! I think one thing the two of us strive for is an inherently collaborative and interactive process, so working with another artist to create a new project is just an extension of that model.
TCS: The piece will be performed as a ‘work in progress’ at a scratch opera event. How important do you think it is to showcase your work at varying stages in the production process?
Naomi: I think Rough for Opera — which has been running since 2014 and is now in its 15th iteration — is a really wonderful opportunity. For one, it’s a rare chance for the audience to see a work in its early stages—something we can’t do in the same way with a finished Mozart opera! But it’s also an excellent opportunity for us as opera makers to learn and grow, and to take on feedback provided by the audience.
Sasha: I agree. Showing work-in-progress is more helpful than it is daunting — although of course it is a little of both! The team at Second Movement and Tête à Tête, who are sponsoring the event, has been so immensely supportive of this project; it’s incredibly important that events like Rough for Opera are out there taking chances on new works by new names.
TCS: You’ve had performances before at the Round Church and in Jesus College chapel, as well as at Somerset House in London. What would be your ideal performance space for A Certain Sense of Order in its finished state?
Naomi: One thing all of these spaces have in common is an intimacy between performer and audience—which is something that The Cockpit also shares. To me, this interaction is really important, especially for opera, which carries such strong associations of a huge concert halls with the singers at a remove on a distant stage (visible only via binoculars!).
Sasha: The relationship between architecture and performance is such an interesting one! One of the exciting things about having a work-in-progress and, additionally, a cast of two, is that things can morph a lot. A new, two-person work can adapt to a lot of different surroundings with great meaning and authenticity. But funnily, perhaps because of this flexibility and abstraction, I would really love to try showing this piece in modernist architecture referencing the work’s original historical context.
For more information on the work of tick tock, see here.