C o r o N a t i o n

CoroNation is a theatrical piece in three acts for voice, violin, accordion, double bass, electronics, a painter, and dancers. From a music-theoretical perspective, it is based on improvisation following certain rules – on improvisation with a plan, so to say, but with a plan to give structure to enable, and not one to constrain the fruitful, wild, spontaneous creativity of the performers.

Premiere : 22.6.2022 in HKB

Photos by Mira Alkhovik

Performers :

Special thanks to:

Kai, Anja, Alvaro, Tijana, Chewbacca, Oda, Tianyu, Rodica, George, Ellen, my teachers, Leo, Christian, Samuel, HKB, Luigi, Arion, Olivia, Pirmin Zängerle, Sylvie Nicephor, Dragica Stankovic, Sinom Zurbrügg, David Kilchemann, Dominik Buob and Creative Fund

What is CoroNation?

CoroNation is a theatrical piece in three acts for voice, violin, accordion, double bass, electronics, a painter, and dancers. From a music-theoretical perspective, it is based on improvisation following certain rules – on improvisation with a plan, so to say, but with a plan to give structure to enable, and not one to constrain the fruitful, wild, spontaneous creativity of the performers.

As the name might suggest, the idea to CoroNation first came to me, Aleksandra Stankovic, born in Serbia 30 years ago, shortly after the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, when the world that I had just began to live in and adjust to, after moving to Switzerland only a year earlier, changed profoundly. These changes to my life as a professional artist, student, and human being not only provided immense inspiration, but also soon started to demand some form artistic expression. The thought about creating a theatrical piece or performance on CoroNation developed over the following two years, growing with my experiences in life, work, and school, and eventually developed into becoming the topic for my final exam, and – more importantly – into this opera.

Contrary to what the name might suggest, CoroNation is not narrowly and ‘only’ about COVID and the pandemic, however. Rather, CoroNation embodies the world I have lived in and how I have seen, felt, and interpreted it for about 3.5 years now. In this sense, the piece and the story of CoroNation is, almost in an autobiographic manner, inextricably linked to my own personal experience, background, and upbringing. It is a reflection of my life and my experiences as a woman, as a young music student from Serbia (a non-EU/NAFTA country), and as a human born in 1992 and grown up during the wars in former Yugoslavia. It encompasses the experiences of a rather poor migrant on a student visa from a relatively closed, homogenous, slightly authoritarian, developing country, trying to make ends meet in Switzerland, one of the wealthiest, most liberal and diverse countries of the West. It is the story of an artist seeking to perform, study, and teach music in the midst of lockdowns, and in the context of virtually all concert halls, theaters, universities, and even the tiniest stages being emptied and rendered useless by a global pandemic. Finally, it offers a glimpse in the worldview of a young professional trying to advance her career, and, in pursuing that goal, to gain and retain a foothold in Western Europe.

CoroNation combines multiple terms and meanings in one word. The “nation”, stands for the social system, for the nationalism, for the notion that there are borders (or more generally differences) between people(s), which can be crossed for migration, sometimes on a temporary, sometimes a permanent basis. “Corona” certainly stands for the virus and the pandemic, but also the crown, and in this sense for Coronation with a small n. This, in turn, can be interpreted as the weeding, which, sadly from my perspective, turns out to be one of the most effective and lasting ways to be granted residency in Western Europe. You should know that over the past 3.5 years I had to feel and learn that it was rather uncommon for a young woman from Serbia to come here for studies of music and the arts; it appears to be much more common for women of my age and origin to come here to get married and enjoy the economic benefits of having made it into Western Europe.

Taken as a whole, CoroNation can therefore be understood as my life, as Aleksandras life, of the past 3.5 years, and of my own interpretation of that life, translated into an autobiographic opera. Using the language of abstract symbols and metaphors, this opera summarizes and brings to life what I have seen, felt, and experienced in “my” CoroNation, ranging from the omnipresent pandemic, over issues of migration, diversity, inequality and racism, to freedom, tolerance, and liberalism, and much more.

 

What is happening in CoroNation? 1st act: the main character

It is dark. It is silent. You hear someone reading the newspaper. Another sound fades in: the ignition of an old bus. The lights turn on. The main character is sitting in front of you, her back facing you, the audience. She is reading the daily newspaper, with the rest of the cast, in the following acts of this piece, ‘performing’ the articles. # The main character is to be interpreted as yourself – she is the embodiment of the audience on the stage following the performance. This setting is an inspiration from Robert Wilson's staging of Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the beach, where the figure of scientist, humanist and amateur musician Albert Einstein breaks the barrier between the audience and the stage. # The main character takes part in the performance, but she does so silently. She will not sing, nor speak, nor play an instrument; and she will not reveal her face.[1]

Einstein on the beach

Philip Glass’ Oper Einstein on the Beach im Muziektheater Amsterdam on 10. January 2013

# Focus back on the sound of the bus and the smoke, when a bunch of migrants is entering our nation: lost, noisy, searching for a place to settle in for a new, better, wealthier life. # The mouthpiece “Schmatzen” sets in, a song performed like a choir, but without words, instruments or other tools, but solely based on smacking sounds. The sounds and movements of the developing scene depict the spreading of the virus. “Social distancing” does not exist, performers are not wearing masks, they are close to each other, touching each other, in violation of any rules designed to prevent contagion. That the virus appears to have been brought into the country by migrants/foreigners is not entirely unintentional, but reflects the stereotype that was often heard especially in the beginning of the crisis (see the claims of a “Chinese virus” by former US president Trump). # On 17 March 2020, Schmatzen gets terminated by the first lockdown. # The first act concludes with a solo violin improvisation piece joined by the rest of the ensemble, depicting the celebration of secret illegal concerts during the lockdown, with the entire cast now being “crowned” with little crowns, symbolizing their infection with the virus.

 

What is happening in CoroNation? 2nd act: diversity & racism

The room is dominated by a sound piece for electronics, voice, and dancers. Both the music as well as the choreography are composed and, combining elements from different cultures and backgrounds, tell the story of diversity in CoroNation – diversity in nationalities, cultures, and races – but also of racism. The free singing part performed by myself consists of an expressive Chinese folk song (from the Dong ethnic group), interrupted by segments of noisy electronics. This is accompanied by the rest of the ensemble, who are tearing apart scores, newspapers, and the barrier tapes of the lockdown. # interpretation: this is improvisation, we do not have scores. We are free, we do not accept boundaries, barriers, or borders. We are the people, we reserve our right to protest against rules and authorities. # The second act closes with dancers painting their bodies in various colors, to highlight the diversity in human appearance and skin color, thereby signifying the differences (found or made) between people, and bringing the attention to the presence of racism. # The elevated role of diversity and racism in CoroNation has its roots in my personal background and life experience again. Before coming to Switzerland I have not really come into contact with racism. This in turn is a result of the simple fact that there is not much ethnic or racial diversity found in Serbia. Switzerland, in comparison, is a very diverse and multicultural country. Only with seeing and experiencing this immense diversity in peoples, cultures, colors, and races, I also saw and experienced racism up close. Maybe only now, through living in Switzerland, and after having made friends with people with different national and racial backgrounds/origins, I can truly understand and feel the problem of racism and its devastating consequences on people’s lives. # Towards its end, the bodypainting scene bursts into joy, as the hateful emotions of racism cannot last against the positive forces of multiculturalism and tolerance, and racism is crushed by colorful diversity again. # When the second act concludes, the pandemic ends, symbolized by the performers taking off their crowns.

 

What is happening in CoroNation? 3rdact: wedding & crowning

The third act commences with the entire ensemble frenetically and joyfully celebrating the end of the pandemic in a free improvisation piece of music and dance. # The main character puts down her newspaper, gets up and walks in the center of the stage, where she is being dressed for her wedding by being wrapped in toilet paper. This is a double metaphor for the pandemic on the one hand, where toilet paper was a most-wanted supply, and for the questionable honor of becoming a bride on the other hand – questionable in the sense that the marriage could be arranged merely to ensure residence in the country. The dressing is accompanied by an improvisation piece of accordion and voice, ending with a scream.[2]# The coronation takes place, with the wedding song being an improvisation of a violin solo based on a melancholic Serbian wedding folk song which tells the story of arranged marriages in the country, which happened up until the mid of the 20th century.

[1] In fact, the main character will reveal her face at the end of the third act, but this information (just as any other information provided in footnotes of this text) will not be conveyed to the audience in this booklet.

[2] With the sound of the scream, the main character turns around and thereby reveals her face to the audience, with a red crosshairs/target pained on her face, a metaphor for war, the main theme of the most recent moment of my life in CoroNation.