Wolfgang Mozart's centuries-old "Requiem in D minor," which was unfinished at the time of the great composer's death in 1791, has been reborn as a powerful new dance piece making its North American premiere at Stanford on Saturday, Dec. 4.
"Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth," led by renowned choreographer and MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham in collaboration with the musician Jlin, gives new life to Mozart's final composition as a production that ponders ritual and mourning and celebrates transformation and resurrection.
In musical terms, a requiem is a piece played for a funeral mass.
"The concept for 'Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth' emerged from a period of personal grief for Abraham and his deep engagement with death and the afterlife that resulted," according to a press release from Stanford Live.
Referring back to its roots as a funeral mass, "the piece is playing on these ideas of reincarnation and rebirth and death," said Keerati Jinakunwiphat, one of 10 dancers performing in "Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth."
While the production draws on themes steeped in mythology and folklore, there's also room for pop culture references amongst the more traditional ones.
"Kyle and I get along because we love superheroes and 'The Avengers' and the Marvel universe," Jinakunwiphat said, describing her character in "Requiem" as "a newer superhero who's trying to discover their powers, and the challenges of it."
The subtitle — "Fire in the Air of the Earth" —is a reference to Abraham's consideration of the astrological signs of its participants, Jinakunwiphat noted.
Representing a range of diverse perspectives and a multitude of artistic influences, the mission of Abraham's artistic company, A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, "is to create a body of dance-based work that is galvanized by Black culture and history," A.I.M 's website states. Abraham's choreography represents a mix of dance genres, including modern, ballet, street and hip-hop. Collaboration is also a hallmark of A.I.M's process.
Composer and producer Jlin is perhaps best known for her critically acclaimed albums "Dark Energy" (2015) and "Black Origami" (2017). For "Requiem," Jlin transforms Mozart's mournful classic into an electronic opus, partly inspired by 1990s Chicago and house-dance styles. According to Stanford Live, she'll perform live from Memorial Auditorium's orchestra pit.
Other collaborators involved with "Requiem" include English costume and couture fashion designer Giles Deacon and set and lighting designer Dan Scully.
"It really is a high-level production, which is awesome," Jinakunwiphat said.
"There's an abstraction level to it; it's definitely open to interpretation, which I always think is a special thing. All of us are very different individually so we each brought a lot to the piece."
Jinakunwiphat, who's now a choreographer as well as a dancer, has been working with A.I.M since 2016, first as an apprentice and as a full member since 2018. Dance Magazine featured her on the cover of this year's "25 to Watch" issue.
A.I.M's passion for social justice, in addition to the company's artistic excellence, resonates with her as an artist and a person.
"I was definitely drawn to Kyle and his movement language and what he stands for, and the dancers are so inspiring," she said.
Jinakunwiphat said that despite the hardships of the pandemic period, she has considered herself lucky in that she was able to keep working, albeit in different formats.
There was "a lot of Zoom stuff; we kind of worked in a new way, talked in a new context," she said. "For me personally, I also appreciated the pandemic as self-care down time, time to recognize my identity outside of being a dancer."
Stanford Live's premiere of "Requiem," like many planned arts events, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Abraham and company are scheduled to be at Stanford for a weeklong residency culminating with the Dec. 4 performance.
Jinakunwiphat said she hopes audiences come away from "Requiem" with a sense of the transcendent and transformative power of the collective spirit. The piece highlights the energy of "people individually but especially together, and how we exchange that energy," she said.
"Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth" was co-commissioned by Stanford Live; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts' Mostly Mozart Festival; University Musical Society of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and International Summer Festival Kampnagel. It will be performed Saturday, Dec. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium, 551 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford. Tickets are $15-$68. More information, including health and safety guidelines, is available at live.stanford.edu.