Sleepwalk Collective, the European live art and experimental theatre company, complete their Kardashian trilogy with Kourtney Kardashian, which is not about Kourtney Kardashian, as such, but about opera. It’s not an opera, in the strict sense – but it does have all the movements, it seems. I glean this from their names (OVERTURE, CAVATINA, RECITATIVE etc) beamed above the two performers through the dark, and by the helpful glossary provided on the back of the freesheet.
I know nothing about opera. I’m one of the people referenced at one point in the performance: I do think of the opera as unnatural. I’ve been once, last month, in fact, and how silly. Think of all the theatre I see; why should opera’s subsidised foreign vowels turn me off more than the often-just-as-pretentious stuff put on underfunded or superfunded stages which I lap up? How useful is “natural” as a term, anyway?
Kourtney Kardashian – following Kim Kardashian, in 2016, a ballet, and the play KhloÃ© Kardashian in 2017 – is less natural, if you like, than anything opera has to offer. Everything feels somehow dialled up, with its two performers (iara Solano Arana and Nhung Dang) wearing “gold”, crinkly dresses which make the sound of rainsticks when they move, and white, painted faces. Opera, they tell us at one point, is rich people acting out their little dramas, at “maximum volume, maximum expense”, pretending that we’re not watching.
Kourtney Kardashian is without pretence. The conductor (Sammy Metcalfe, his speech unspoken and beamed above us like the movements) tells us, to begin with, that there are no musicians or orchestra here, but that he still raises his hand – like this – and the music starts. This music is occasionally run through with vocal samples, some recognisably as opera, but mostly throbbing, humming bass with something darting over it. A guy in the row in front of me bobs his head like he’s listening to something trendy, as my mum would put it.
Performers iara Solano Arana and Nhung Dang speak to us about the opera, examining dissected parts of it, but that makes it sound dry; it isn’t dry. It’s honestly almost frightening at points. They talk as if we’re all friends here, and they’re human, like we all are, maybe. They’re either washed in light making their whole bodies gold, or red. Sometimes one of them will go to the side of the little raised platform of the stage, and do something like make themselves doll-like, turning in perfect semi-circles with a measuring tape in their hands. Sometimes they wear little Marshall amps around their necks. They tell us that they’re outsourcing our labour, as audience, to a recorded laughter and applause. It’s reliable.
Opera, like a lot of things in the world, is ridiculous.
The language is beautiful – I want to buy a script of it and can only really approximate it here. Somewhere, somebody is singing, they tell us, but not here. There’ll be no singing here tonight. And it’s true: we only hear singing when there are recreated memories of someone, unspecified, from 1992, of their mother or father singing from Figaro. We sort of see this relationship. There’s one robotic dance. It all feels both distancing and much, much too close.
Opera, they tell us, is like performing a seance. These are the right two to do it, both so confident and measured. Even if it feels like poking at a corpse a bit. Even if it is, at points, puzzling and strange, and some people will be turned off because, well, opera. Kourtney Kardashian won’t be for everyone – I’m not even sure it’s for me. But it’s brilliant.
Kourtney Kardashian is on at Battersea Arts Centre till 2nd March. More info here.