Together with musician and composer Tyshawn Sorey, and soprano Julia Bullock, Peter Sellars explores the iconic personality of Josephine Baker who shook the Parisian Roaring Twenties leading the Revue Nègre to triumph.
Josephine Baker, who took up French nationality in 1937, undoubtedly shot to stardom in the music-hall, but she remains just as famous for her role in the French Resistance during the World War II and, back in the USA, for her public advocacy for the Civil Rights movement and her support to Martin Luther King. The immortal performer of “J’ai deux amours” appear to be just as much of a free spirit in her private life, adopting a dozen children from all around the World and marrying 4 times all the while having affairs with women.
Peter Sellars, who first became famous for his iconoclastic adaptations of Mozart in particular, now prefers pared-down aesthetic directing. Talking bout his big comeback to the Châtelet and the new show, he said: “Perle Noire is about being black in France, being exotic and being here to entertain. We started of with six of Josephine’ songs, which we extended, digressing and thus creating “meditations”. Si j’étais blanche, for example, made us wonder: ‘How might persons of colour feel like if they were white? Would their life be easier?’. We paid close attention to the lyrics, to what they implied, what was suggested but never said. It might seem sorrowful at first but, as Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream’. So, what’s the dream?”
Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine was commissioned by the International Contemporary Ensemble, with the key support of Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting and further generous support from Alain Coblence.