Corn Dance coming to Santa Fe Opera

Sacred ceremony will take place at 'Doctor Atomic' debut

By Jennifer Levin
The New Mexican
Posted 7/14/18

Santa Fe Opera general director Charles MacKay announced Tuesday that members of Santa Clara, San Ildefonso and Tesuque pueblos will offer sacred Corn Dances before Saturday night's …

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Corn Dance coming to Santa Fe Opera

Sacred ceremony will take place at 'Doctor Atomic' debut

Posted

Santa Fe Opera general director Charles MacKay announced Tuesday that members of Santa Clara, San Ildefonso and Tesuque pueblos will offer sacred Corn Dances before Saturday night's debut of much-anticipated Doctor Atomic.

It will be the first time Pueblo dancers have performed in conjunction with a Santa Fe Opera production, and in a news release, MacKay called the addition of the dances "enormous in the delicate social, political and spiritual worlds of rural New Mexico."

The statement said the "gift offering" will take two forms -- a 20-minute ceremony starting about 35 minutes before Saturday's 8:30 p.m. curtain, and a Corn Dance during Doctor Atomic's second act.

The dances are expected to be held before and during every performance of Doctor Atomic.

The Santa Fe Opera and neighboring Tesuque Pueblo have been on tenuous footing since Tesuque announced plans to construct a casino complex next door to the open-air theater late last year. Construction has progressed rapidly in recently months.

But in its news release, the opera seemed to indicate the dances during the production of Doctor Atomic were especially significant.

"The diplomatic and spiritual meanings of this event are powerful," the release states. "This event will launch an enhanced relationship between The Santa Fe Opera and local communities."

Corn Dances traditionally are performed in Pueblo communities in the summer to honor the planting and growing cycles. According to the news release, this is the first time dancers from the three pueblos have danced together.

The performances come seven decades after the first atomic bomb was developed in Los Alamos and tested at Trinity Site in Central New Mexico.

The opera said it will acknowledge the pueblos' gift by contributing to an educational fund for performance arts training opportunities for Pueblo youth.

In a letter posted on the opera company's website, MacKay said others expected at Doctor Atomic are representatives of "Downwinder" communities -- residents who have developed multiple and complex cancers as a result of living near atomic test sites.

"With their participation, along with the representation of workers from Los Alamos laboratories, these performances of Doctor Atomic mark an extraordinary occasion to present a deep history of the atomic age from New Mexico, in the worlds and with the bodies of the communities most affected," MacKay wrote.

Doctor Atomic, written by the composer John Adams with a libretto by Peter Sellars, is set in the weeks, hours and minutes leading up to the moment -- 5:29 a.m. July 16, 1945 -- that the first atomic bomb was detonated in Southern New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project.

The opera, which had its premiere in 2005 at the San Francisco Opera, centers on the figure of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was the first director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and was known as the father of the atomic bomb.

Though Oppenheimer had personal misgivings about such weapons before and after World War II, he also was a scientist bent on invention and discovery. In Doctor Atomic, Oppenheimer's wife, Kitty, wrestles with the moral and environmental implications of atomic energy, as do the other characters, including Pasqualita, a Tewa woman who works as the Oppenheimer's maid.

Sellars, who directs a new staging of the opera for Santa Fe, adapted much of the libretto from declassified U.S. government documents and communications among scientists, government officials and military personnel. He also incorporated poetry by Baudelaire, Muriel Rukeyser and John Donne, as well as quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, and a traditional Tewa Indian song.

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