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Thursday, October 25, 2018

In Context: Satyagraha

Photo: Markus Gårder  

Cirkus Cirkör lends its signature acrobatic grace and wit to Philip Glass’ mesmerizing operatic account of Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with civil disobedience in this new production from Sweden's Folkoperan. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #BAMNextWave.

Program Notes
“I have come to appreciate that Glass’ music is perfect circus music. There’s something about this sense of the ecstatic, that the music is continuously reaching new heights with minor tweaks that suit the circus we are making here”

What is truth? (Eidolon)
Satyagraha presents us with a reflection upon what our truth might be, today.

BAM: The Next Wave Festival (
Explore the rich history of BAM’s iconic festival in this newly released book

Watch & Listen

When You Gonna Get A Real Job?: Philip Glass And Devonté Hynes Compare Notes (NPR)
Philip Glass And Devonté Hynes Compare Notes

A Philip Glass Moment That Could Last Forever (NPR)
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang has been a Philip Glass fan since high school. But it was a performance of the opera Satyagraha that triggered a genuine epiphany.

Now your turn...

How did you enjoy the show? Likes? Dislikes? Surprises? Tell us what’s on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #BAMNextWave.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.


  1. On its first night at BAM, this production was still rough around many edges (supertitles were projected so high on the backdrop that they weren't visible from the balcony, and circus stunts failed frequently enough to be distracting), but in those moments when Cirkus Cirkör turned to their trade's more subtle and graceful arts—rapid spins of the Cyr wheel; tight, controlled juggling of silver balls; strange play of unspooling thread—they proved more than capable of complementing the rhythmic beauty of Mr Glass's score and bringing immediacy to a work with relatively little emphasis on narrative. Satyagraha has long been one of my favorite operas, and this is a remarkable and energizing production.

  2. I have seen a previous production of Satyagraha years ago at BAM, and the score was one of my favorite for years (am a big Philip Glass fan). This production stands out, mainly for the following reasons: 1. The set, lights and colors were stunning; 2. Cast movements were well choreographed; 3. Most of the props were good; 4. Circus acts filled perfectly the rather long (and beautiful) musical parts with no singing. At first I felt they were distracting, but later found them quite appropriate. I think the only thing that bothered me was that the voice of "Gandhi" was week and unimpressive.

  3. This was one of the worst things I have ever seen in my entire life (and I see A LOT of stuff). I LOVE this opera but was completely unable to enjoy it because of all the visual and noisy distractions.

    The music is fantastic and all the singers were absolutely brilliant. It was too bad they were relegated to background or forced to hang from the rafters while a bunch of gratuitous cirque performers did their thing at the front of the stage. At one point, the singers had to clean up after the cirque performers to make space for the next cirque performer.

    The metaphors to justify the the cirque performances were weak - i get it Gandhi was walking a tightrope, don't need to see a guy walking a tightrope - a little too on the nose. At one point, during a scene about an uprising against an oppressive apartheid government, a guy dressed like Charlie Chaplin rolls across the stage on a unicycle. WTF?!

    Add in all the noise from the cirque performers moving their equipment or laying down mats for their next trick...and the music was completely relegated to the role of accompaniment. I would rather the piece be advertised as a cirque performance and simply played the music from a recording - because that's how the musicians and singers were treated.

    BAM is SO good at offering work that challenges the performers and the audience. That's why I love BAM. I don't mind walking out of something because there was an artist who was pushing a boundary and it just didn't work. I respect that. I don't mind walking out of something because it's just not my taste. I don't hold the artists responsible for that either. However, I didn't bother staying after the intermission because the performance was so poorly conceived. There were no artistic boundaries being pushed, and i "got it" just fine - it was just good old fashioned, plain old B-A-D.

  4. Alas, must agree with @Oliver. Disappointing. The space wasn't right for acoustics and the overall busy-ness was distracting. Also, performers weren't lit properly.

    The fierce, insistent, otherworldly power of Glass's music was somehow softened into the ordinary. Perhaps this piece would've fared better in the Gilman.

  5. We were two couples and each found the performance thrilling. The singing, conducting and musical performance combined with the staging, choreography and acrobatics. The acrobatics brought attention to the risk and fragility or the theme.

  6. All the positive reviews so far are about the acrobatics. I guess if you came looking for an acrobatics show with some music to accompany, it was great. If you came hoping to see an opera, then the acrobatics didn't accompany or support the opera, the got in the way of it. Is this a performance problem or a marketing of the performance problem?

  7. My wife and I saw the performance last night Nov.1 - and we had also seen the original production (different staging) at BAM back in 1981. We were both a bit skeptical of the premise, but decided that we'd trust the curators of Next Wave and entered with open minds. We found this production both thrilling and expansive, in the unexpected symbiosis of opera and circus. As I write this I realize that some dramatic stagings of opera have the unintended result of feeling like a circus at times.

    The orchestra and singers were wonderful, showing a lot of strength and depth in the company. At times the space felt a little cramped for all that was happening at once - but making it work was part of the magic of the show's ingenuity.

    Both being visual artists, we were taken by the richness of the red, black and white color palette, as well as the subdued lighting. Seated in the upper balcony, our god's eye view might have made the foregrounding of acrobatic elements far less distracting (or exciting!) than it might be for someone seated in the orchestra. That said - we'd love to be able to go back tomorrow night to enjoy the show once more from a different perspective.

  8. Orchestra was great, circus performers were impressive, singing was fine, but the staging was awful and amateurish and the director should probably stick to directing circus performances because he is not up to the task of opera. Cramming the orchestra on one half of the stage means everyone is tiptoeing awkwardly around them, visually not interesting at all and it just looked messy, uncoordinated, and like everyone was confused about where to stand. Why was the entire front 1/3 of the stage completely unused while everyone jammed themselves into odd angles to fit on the back 2/3? Related to the visual confusion and amateurishness, we all know the libretto of this opera is basically besides the point, but why drive that home by projecting the supertitles up in a corner where no one could see them and all while projecting distracting illustrations on top of them? And don't get me started on that hokey ending featuring random projections of Angela Davis et al thrown up on stage. I agree that Glass's idea of "freedom from oppression but I'm only going to talk about men" is outdated, but treating women activists in such a tokenizing way is no better.

  9. My friend and I found the production to be fabulous - I can’t imagine ever forgetting it. The circus added so much to the music.
    One real negative - there is absolutely no leg room in the balcony - torture to sit with our knees in our chins. And couldn’t see the titles bec we were on the side. Worse than a cheap airplane.

    1. Unforgettable is exactly what I felt at the time - and indeed the sound and images of the show continue to resonate.
      And, you are right about the leg room in the balcony. I was in the middle and the titles were too high on the background to be legible.

  10. Couldn't agree more with the poor reviews above. I'm all for experimentation and new forms of interpretation but weak is weak. I had a similar distaste last year at Circus Cirkör's performance where they had projected commentary/text on the screen about the refugee crisis. Arts does not have to be so literal and basic - unless that is in fact the point, which in this case wasn't.


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