Based in New York, David Lang is a renown American composer who was the recipient of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music and a 2010 Grammy Award. The Pulitzer was for The Little Match Girl Passion and the Grammy for Best Small Ensemble Performance. Lang is the Co-founder of the musical collective Bang on a Can and he was nominated for an Academy Award for “Simple Song #3” from the film Youth.

Dimitri Chamblas - Photo by Jacob Jonas

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Dimitri Chamblas is a former artistic director of the Paris Opera. He has performed with French choreographer Mathilde Monnier and together in 1996, he and Monnier created the “research and writing residence, an occasion for artists to create personal creative space outside of the traditional production process”. Chamblas and choreographer Boris Charmatz created A bras le Corps, a duet that has since been performed around the globe, and together they created Edna, organizing events, performances and exhibitions. Chamblas is currently the Dean  of the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

A principal solo artist for more than two decades, Lesley Leighton has performed with many of the world’s eminent conductors. She has recorded films with composers that include John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, Danny Elfman, to name only a few, and most recently she worked on Small Foot, Venom, and Wreck It Ralph 3.

As part of the FLUXUS Festival’s Noon to Midnight, on Saturday, June 1, the talents of these three artists will join forces in the production of Lang’s vocal work crowd out at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. crowd out was first performed in England by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in 2014. This will be Chamblas’ first time working with the LA Phil, bringing a choreographer’s perspective to its West Coast premiere.

Chamblas was approached by the production’s staff at the LA Phil to see if he would be interested in directing the project. His sense was that the LA Phil wanted to have a very special staging of the work.

The history of the piece” Chamblas said. “is that David Lang was in Europe for one of his concerts and while walking in the street, he saw a large crowd of people going in the same direction.” Lang became very intrigued with this and decided to follow them. “It happened that those people were going into a stadium and because he had the evening off decided to buy a ticket to find out what it was.” Chamblas went on to explain that the crowd was headed to a soccer game. Soccer was not one of Lang’s interests, but Chamblas explained that while inside the stadium “instead of Lang watching the sport, he decided to listen to the match. He turned his ears on and to listen to it as if it were a masterful music piece or as if it was an opera.” He said. “All that audience was like whispering, shouting and yelling, and then there was all this tension, and then a goal. Then everyone became a community.”

It was this experience that was the inspiration for crowd out. Lang invited a massive number of singers and created the work to reflect what he had seen, heard and felt in the large stadium of shouting and moving soccer fans.

Previously, the performances of crowd out have taken place in large public places such as malls or open plaza areas. This will be the first time it has been performed inside a concert hall. Chamblas said that the reason he was asked to direct the production “was really the thinking of how a piece like this could be staged in a theater. How do you consider how the theater will change the piece, where are we going to put the singers and are we going to put them on the stage?” He went on to explain that all the production elements of theater were discussed, such as costumes that are associated with the dramatization of a performance.

Very quickly” Chamblas said. “I decided that the piece will change the theater rather than the theater changing the piece.” He wanted to create a similar experience that the audience had in large public spaces. “I didn’t want to have the singers on the stage with all that distance between them and the audience. I wanted to keep that human element and create that feeling of one single crowd.”

There will be 1,000 singers spread out within the concert hall, including the stage, the orchestra and the different levels of balconies. When the audience enters the space, they will see 1,000 human beings standing throughout the hall. The audience will be invited to sit anywhere in the space that they want, in the seats, on the stage, or anywhere they wish. “If you took a picture once everyone is there, you would see one huge crowd; 3,000 people together in a room.” Chamblas said. “I really wanted to trust the human experience rather than building a show. It’s really more than immersive, it is one single community.”

CalArts Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance Dean Dimitri Chamblas - crowd out - Photo by Rafael Hernandez

CalArts Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance Dean Dimitri Chamblas – crowd out – Photo by Rafael Hernandez

Chamblas hopes to get rid of any and all artificial elements that will detract from the feeling of one large group of people living, moving and breathing inside a single space. He explained that Lang’s piece is a powerful work by itself with a thousand vocalists singing or speaking words. He asked himself, why would he put any other dramatic elements on top of it? He felt that his job was to analyze what crowd out was about, and to banish all the ideas that he usually brings when he creates a piece in the theater.

He explained that the results of his work will be sort of invisible because of its simplicity. When asked to explain, Chamblas said, “It is really all about the body. It’s about the human and the breath and I didn’t want to have anything else on top of it.”

For the press release Chamblas wrote, “A singer is a body first, a physical presence, before generating the voice,” noted Chamblas. “As a choreographer/director, I love to think about the voice as a whole choreographic territory. With 3,000 people in a room—a third of them singing—you need nothing else.  Nothing artificial.  No theatrics. We are all together in the space. The emptiness emphasizes the human condition… and allows us to build a community experience within it.”

One of the biggest components of this project was locating 1,000 singers in Los Angeles. “One of the interesting parts of the project was how we have been exploring the city,” Chamblas said. “how we’ve been meeting different communities, and how we’ve been able to build the project.”

Dimitri Chamblas - crowd out - Photo by Rafael Hernandez

CalArts Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance Dean Dimitri Chamblas

The participants will represent a diverse group of Southern California performers, including older singers from Orange County, younger singers from a church as well as college students. They include many people of different ages and cultural backgrounds. “All together to build this project.” Chamblas explained. “All together to perform at Disney Hall. All together to cover this geographical space, at that time on June 1st to share that work with that audience, is just unbelievable.”

Along with CalArts dance faculty member, Spenser Theberge, Chamblas first began working with each separate group. There are 7 colored groups consisting of 200 plus singers and each group was assigned a color, and there is a leader and a sub-conductor for each group. Chamblas said that the challenge of organizing such a huge organization was one of the most attractive elements for him. “How you choreograph for them, how you make them move together and how you make them move.” He said. The singers have a score with words to sing, and on top of that he has created movement.

Chamblas explain that “During the performance, Spenser and I will go onstage and make some movement intentions that the singers will then make at the same time that they are singing. They are very simple movements, but that make sense when it is 1,000 singers doing that.” He said. “If you raise your right hand very slowly, but you have 1,000 persons doing that, or if you put your hands in front of your face with 1,000 singers doing that it is amazing.” All the gestures are related to different social issues of protest or words that relate to emotions like anxiety. These gestures are not an interpretation of these words or actions, but they are close to it.

There are some gestures that could be narrating the essay, but the timing has been changed and it is so slow that it becomes abstract.” He said. Chamblas used the example of raising a hand to say hello. “If you take one minute to raise your hand, then it becomes abstract. If you change the timing of it, then you change the identity of it.”

The ushers at Disney Hall with inform the audience that they are invited to participate in the movement if they wish. “Again, I really think of this as a global, strong experience for all of us 3,000 people, more than you come, listen to something and then you leave.” He stressed.

Dimitri Chamblas - crowd out -Photo by Rafael Hernandez

CalArts Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance Dean Dimitri Chamblas – crowd out – Photo by Rafael Hernandez

One of the first things that Chamblas did when he arrived in Los Angeles was to have 75 dancers perform on Grand Avenue, saying that at the time, he was more interested in turning the city into the stage. “When I first came to the city, I was shocked at the money component; that you had to pay for everything.” He said. “So, I said, what if I did a piece that would be taking place in the street where everybody could watch, and it would be free. Not with just one or two dancers, but with a massive group of 75 dancers, then it would be a real gift.” Chamblas has also worked with 150 dancers in a production of Swan Lake for the Paris Opera, but never anything like crowd out that uses 1,000 people.

No one has ever performed from the highest of the balconies, so this will also be a first for Disney Hall. The groups that will take part in the production of crowd out include: Los Robles Master Chorale, CalArts Department of Music, San Fernando Valley Master Chorale, The Ruby LA, Painted Brain, Philippine Chamber Singers, San Gabriel Valley Choral Company, Community Chorus, Women’s, Victory Starts Now, Welsh Choir of Southern California, LA Chamber Choir, CSU San Bernardino Department of Music, Dead Practice / The Mortuary, Pasadena Pro Musica, Children’s Media Association of Los Angeles, UCI Chamber Singers, Apollo Men’s Choir, Antelope Valley Master Chorale, Keali’i O Nalani, and Covina United Methodist.

crowd out will take place at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles at noon on Saturday, June 1, 2019. Tickets can be obtained individually or by purchasing tickets to Noon to Midnight here.

Video: crowd out world premiere in Birmingham, England, June 2014