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Published15 May 2023

Yaz Lancaster's PAPER TIGER, featuring vocalists Eliza Bagg and Miss Grit, premieres Friday, May 19, on the Opera Philadelphia Channel

The 12-minute film directed by Sean Pecknold includes piano performance by Mary Prescott and follows a range of emotion expressed through lead dancer Megan Doheny and choreography by Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo

PAPER TIGER, a 12-minute digital opera composed by Black transdisciplinary artist Yaz Lancaster, performed by vocalists Eliza Bagg and Miss Grit and pianist Mary Prescott, with a film directed by Sean Pecknold, premieres on the Opera Philadelphia Channel on Friday, May 19.

PAPER TIGER is the latest in a series of world premiere digital commissions released by Opera Philadelphia beginning in 2021 by composers Tyshawn Sorey, Courtney Bryan, Angélica Negrón, Caroline Shaw, and Rene Orth. The series has garnered critical acclaim for embracing a new medium with a spirit of experimentation.

Yaz Lancaster (they/them), a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and poet, whose debut audiovisual album AmethYst “is already a strong contender for favorite album of the year” (I CARE IF YOU LISTEN), creates music that often reckons with specific influences ranging from politics of liberation and identity to natural phenomena and poetics. Their work navigates practices aligned with relational aesthetics; fragments and collage; and alternative subcultures (DIY, digital spaces, etc.). In PAPER TIGER, Yaz reflects on nearly a decade of their identity as a queer person of color. In the opening song Visions, they recount feelings of being unseen and undesired during a time where marginalized genders had little representation, and Blackness was seen as less desirable. The titular song Paper Tiger explores the multitudes and complexities of gender expansiveness– the music throughout the work straddles several genre lines including hip/trip hop, contemporary classical, and hyperpop. The final song Metalloid celebrates the joy to be had in “trans-ness” and gender nonconformity– in the ability to continually create oneself: “I can be anyone / I can be anything.”

Sean Pecknold (he/him) is a music video and film director from Seattle, based in Los Angeles. His body of work includes award-winning films and animations for Fleet Foxes, John Legend, Netflix, Dreamworks, Dirty Projectors, Google, Sony, Lyft, Headspace, the New York Times, and the BBC. He is currently working on his first feature-length film. 

He approached PAPER TIGER as an emotional journey through a day in the life of a fictional character, performed by lead dancer Megan Doheny (she/her). “Inspired by the theme of visibility in Yaz’s beautiful composition, I made a film about the struggle for acceptance and wanting to be seen in a world crowded with conformity,” Pecknold said. “Using a range of expressive dances, emotions and abstract sets, we chart a frustrating, repetitive, confusing, euphoric, twisting path towards finding the strength to be oneself during a day in the life of our lead character.”

The cast of seven dancers are choreographed by Cuban/Spaniard Miami native Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo (she/her), an internationally acclaimed choreographer and movement artist. She is on Billboard’s top 12 most iconic Choreographers of the Decade list for her work on Dua Lipa’s “New Rules,” and has received for Dua’s “Electricity” an MTV VMA nomination for Best Dance Video. Trained classically and culturally in a plethora of movement techniques and philosophies from ballet to popping to improvisation, she is a pioneer of the hybridization of classical and street techniques.

“Collaborating with the incredible Toogie Barcelo and Megan Doheny on the movements, we focused on matching the dynamic rise and fall of the three-song suite, using Yaz’s instrumental changes and vocal phrasings as inspiration for 12 distinct one-minute scenes, each corresponding to the 12 hours in our fictional day,” Pecknold said. “Megan’s range of movement and emotion gives the character an uncertain vulnerability alongside a fierce confidence that felt like the perfect reflection of PAPER TIGER.”

Eliza Bagg (she/her) is a Los Angeles based experimental musician, working primarily as a vocalist in the field of contemporary classical music along with producing her own work. Opera Philadelphia Channel fans will recognize her as the voice of Angélica Negrón’s 2021 digital commission The Island We Made, in which her performance is lip-synched on screen by drag superstar Sasha Velour. Bagg’s singing in the film was called “ethereal” by the New York Times and “gossamer” by the New Yorker. She has collaborated across genres with prominent experimental artists ranging from performing in Meredith Monk’s opera Atlas with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to touring regularly as a member of Roomful of Teeth. Bagg has performed as a soloist in new music projects with major symphonies including the NY Phil and the LA Phil. Her compositional work explores the “valley between authenticity and artifice” (The Guardian), often combining medieval and minimalistvocal styles and idioms with electronic processing.

New York-based musician Margaret Sohn (they/she) created Miss Grit to function as an outlet for their own analysis and expression of self. Called a “polymath” by NME in early 2019, their process is introspective, their vision precise. Their debut album Follow the Cyborg, released on February 24, 2023, a concept album about a cybernetic organism gaining sentience and venturing out into the world, was called “a stunning debut” by Rolling Stone and “timeliest album of the year” by NPR. In March, Lancaster, on violin, joined Miss Grit to perform the album’s title track on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Mary Prescott (she/her) is a Thai American interdisciplinary artist, composer and pianist based in Minneapolis and New York City who explores the foundations and facets of identity and social conditions through experiential performance. She aims to foster understanding and create pathways for change by voicing emotional and human truths through artistic investigation and dissemination. Prescott’s output includes several large-scale interdisciplinary works, improvised music, opera, sound journaling, film music, solo and chamber concert works. Featured in “21 for ‘21: Composers and Performers Who Sound Like Tomorrow,” The Washington Post describes her work as “a bright light cast forward... uncompromising,” and “masterfully envisioned.”

Megan Doheny (she/her) is a movement artist and choreographer currently based in Southern California. From 2015-2022, Megan worked as a dancer for the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company where she performed the works of artistic director Rami Be’er throughout Israel, as well as international tours to more than 20 different countries. In 2021, she was awarded the Yair Shapira Prize for her contribution to contemporary dance in Israel. Megan is the co-creator of “Outrun the Bear,” a collaborative dance project whose works have been performed and screened throughout Europe, the United States, Israel, Mexico, Singapore, and South Korea. 

An Opera Philadelphia film
Music, Text, Sound Production – Yaz Lancaster
Filmmaker – Sean Pecknold
Primary vocals – Eliza Bagg
Secondary vocals – Miss Grit
Piano – Mary Prescott
Lead Dancer –Megan Doheny
Creative Producer – Sarah Williams
Producer – Ash Marshall
Production Designer – Adi Goodrich
Choreographer – Toogie Barcelo
Director of Photography – Travis Waddell
Art Director – Courtney Cooper
Sound Engineer, Additional Production – Tyler Neidermayer
Recording Engineer – John Kilgore
Dancers – Maggie Canady, Orlando Agawin, Baylie Olsen, Riley Higgins, Josie Anders, Justin Porter

About the Opera Philadelphia Channel

In under three years of streaming, the Opera Philadelphia Channel has garnered critical acclaim, audience accolades, and major award recognition ranging from GRAMMY and International Opera Award nominations to the inaugural Opera America Award for Digital Excellence in Opera. As audiences return to live performances, the digital opera channel called “one of the best bets going, worldwide” by the New York Times remains at the core of Opera Philadelphia’s mission, curating a lineup of cinematic opera presented in partnership with artists and producers from across the industry. Subscriptions priced at $9.99 per month or $99 per year are offered along with free programming and pay-per-view rental options. The channel is available for viewing on computers and mobile devices, and on TV screens via Chromecast and the Opera Philadelphia Channel app on AppleTV, Android TV, Roku, and Amazon FireTV. For more information, visit operaphila.tv.

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