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By Greta Petry (February 20, 2007)

Squonk Taking Albany by Storm

Squonk Opera, a Pittsburgh-based troupe of visual artists and musicians, has performed in the U.S. and abroad.

Squonk Opera, a Pittsburgh-based troupe of visual artists and musicians, has performed in the U.S. and abroad.

Take some fun music, mix it with a puppet show about Albany history, add some elementary school ballroom dancers, and what have you got?

Squonk Opera's Albany: The Opera.

An opera in name only, Albany: The Opera is a multimedia show that is coming to the University at Albany April 21 at 8 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center's Main Theatre. "It is very Monty Pythonesque," according to Jackie Dempsey, one of Squonk's two artistic directors.

Dempsey founded the Squonk Opera troupe with visual artist and designer Steve O'Hearn more than a decade ago. Their current project adapts the character, atmosphere, and history of each city it visits and incorporates them into the show.

Squonk's artistic directors met with UAlbany faculty, including Don Byron, David Janower, and Richard Albagli, during a visit Feb. 7. The artistic team also toured downtown Albany in preparation for its UAlbany residency March 5-9. During the residency, the group will interact with the UAlbany community, present workshops, conduct interviews, research statistics, and shoot video footage to develop the show, which will illustrate what makes the city and its University unique.

The Albany show will include students from the Albany School of Humanities who are studying ballroom dancing, as well as the UAlbany Chamber Singers, dancers from the Department of Theatre, and the UAlbany percussion ensemble. First and third grade students from the Albany School of Humanities will create animated imagination maps that will be projected on screens onstage.

New York Times critic Ben Brantley called Squonk "Ingenious! Hallucinatory! Hypnotic!...Squonk inhabits its own reality warp, a place where squares and hipsters alike can seek refuge. To interpret or analyze this multimedia frolic would be like deconstructing a fun-house ride at a country fair..."

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the word squonk (skwonk) is "Pittsburgh dialect meaning: v. to make a joyous noise; adj. noisy, colorful, funny, outrageous; proper n. used only in combination, as in Squonk Opera, a musical performance collaborative that squonks."

Pittsburgh was the premiere city for the current project. Pittsburgh: The Opera was performed in June. A reviewer for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted: ". . . rich in music and imagery . . .the show wavers between boast and roast as it looks at the things that make Pittsburgh distinctive and lovable, yet connected to the world at large. It's a quirky, playful, music- and image-driven piece of performance art that offers a nontraditional view of a place you thought you knew. "

College Park: The Opera was performed in Maryland in November, and Chester County: The Opera was performed in Malvern, Pa., this month. After Albany, the troupe will move on to South Orange: The Opera in New Jersey, and Columbia: The Opera in Maryland.

Squonk Opera has traveled abroad to Belgium and South Korea, and has performed at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The PAC has received a $14,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour program for the project.

Tickets are available for the April 21 performance. The cost is $18 for the general public and $12 for students. The box office can be reached at (518) 442-3997.

In addition to the April 21 performance, there will be a morning matinee for high school groups April 20.


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