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Rinde Eckert collaborating with Opera Piccola

Award: $35,000 Performing Arts grant awarded in 1997

Premiere: September 16-October 9, 1999, Theater of Yugen/Noh Space, San Francisco

Composer, playwright, and performer Rinde Eckert collaborated with Opera Piccola to create Navigators, a contemporary folk tale for family audiences. In Navigators, four space travelers sailed into the year 2000 and found themselves on a strange planet. Eating a plant that causes amnesia, they forgot who they were and discovered false identities before they learned their true ones.

Susannah Wood, then director of Opera Piccola, noted “Rinde led the collaborators through a highly interactive and invigorating process, engaging all involved in a ‘democracy’ of ideas. In meetings and rehearsals held over a period of 28 months between spring 1997 and summer 1999, the collaborators—and the piece they were working on—continually posed the question’ How shall we proceed?’ as a metaphor for the beginning of the New Millennium.” After its premiere at the Noh Space in San Francisco, Navigators became part of Opera Piccola’s repertoire of touring pieces, performed in schools and community centers throughout Northern California.

Rinde Eckert began making work in 1980 with The New Performance Group (Seattle), an ensemble of musicians interested in exploring the border of music and theater. A series of collaborations he began in 1986 established a position for him at the intersection of music, theater, and dance. Among his collaborations were projects with George Coates Performance Works, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, and Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. He previously had worked with Opera Piccola as a director. Other artists collaborating on Navigators included choreographer Deborah Vaughn, costume designer Miguel Garcia, set designer Leiko Yamamoto Pech, and Opera Piccola’s Susannah Wood.

Opera Piccola was a multiracial troupe of actors, singers, dancers, and designers that presented new original operas and operas adapted from world traditions for modern audiences of all ages. It worked to redefine opera to be accessible for modern audiences as a living art form that includes music, dance, and stories of cultures from around the world. Founded in 1982, the company also managed an extensive arts education program in Oakland public schools. It closed in 2012.