1. Joséphine Baker: the black pearl
Joséphine Baker is etched in our collective memory as the African American woman who danced the Charleston in a banana skirt. The artists of the era dubbed her “the black pearl”. Besides being a singer, a dancer and an actress, she was also a member of France’s resistance movement during World War II and a civil rights activist.
2. Singer Julia Bullock
Perle Noire was conceived by classical singer Julia Bullock. Celebrated as one of the most progressive voices of her generation, she uses her artistic platform for social activism to glorious effect. As the vocal soloist and embodiment of Joséphine Baker, she tells the story behind Baker’s infectious smile. With Perle Noire, Bullock returns to DNO, where she previously captivated audiences with her leading roles in such productions as Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West and Michel van der Aa’s Upload.
3. Director Peter Sellars
Opera director Peter Sellars is known not only for his ground-breaking interpretations of classical works, but also for his partnerships with creative and innovative artists. The renowned director now returns to DNO after successful productions like Nixon in China, The Rake’s Progress, Only the Sound Remains and Girls of the Golden West.
4. Composer Tyshawn Sorey
Open-minded composer Tyshawn Sorey pushes boundaries and is praised for his ability to blend composition and improvisation in his work. In Perle Noire, he explores and broadens Joséphine Baker’s body of work. Sorey and Bullock have stripped Baker’s iconic tunes of their glitter and glamour, and instead showcase her lived experience in new, expressive compositions. But Sorey is more than just the composer. Together with five musicians from the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), he will also take to the stage as the musical director, while playing the piano and percussion
5. Liberation of the Black voice
Breaking the stereotype, Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine opens with the words: ‘Here is who I am now.’ Julia Bullock, Peter Sellars, Tyshawn Sorey and poet Claudia Rankine reflect on the life of the cultural icon that was Joséphine Baker from a modern-day perspective. In doing so, they challenge the long-held stereotypical view of Joséphine Baker. In their musical reflection, she is no longer an exotic object of European fantasies, but a real woman who seeks to liberate herself from an imposed identity.
Perle Noir was on at DNO from 9 to 13 March