“Working with Cathy Brown on the movement direction of Size Zero Opera’s production of Women Box was hugely enjoyable, informative and essential aspect to the creation of Jennifer Walshe’s challenging piece of physical music theatre. Cathy’s expertise enabled the piece to become a ‘real’ portrayal of the mental and physical challenges of a female boxer, instead of one that merely pretended to present boxing. Cathy worked collaboratively with the team to bring this new opera to a level of movement precision far beyond what the company and thought would be possible. Her dedication, insight, ability to communicate and direct enabled the soloist to understand the required movement through a gradual organic process assisting them in their understanding of the character in a very raw and physical.
Without Cathy Brown’s expertise on the Women Box project, the work would not only not have been as successful, it simply would not have been the same piece of theatre. Cathy’s involvement in the project gave the work it’s true communicative potential, delivering a true reflection of the training and psychology of a boxer.”
Laura J Bowler – Composer. Theatre Director. Mezzo-Soprano. Opera Director. Conductor
“That was a bloody marvellous show, really intense. Also, I thought your talk before the show set the tone brilliantly. Some of my prejudices/assumptions were challenged tonight, this should happen more in new music I think.”
Richard Whitelaw, Head of Programmes, Sound and Music.
No punches pulled in Size Zero Opera’s Women Box in London
“They took to the physicality of this piece perfectly, as they did to the Kagel quartets as well, both similarly concerned with the line beyond live music and performance art.
Opera’s tough. You can’t just stand there and sing. The minimum requirement for an opera singer is the ability to both sing and act — and that’s plenty, for most. The number of opera singers who would also be prepared to undergo an intensive training program with an ex-pro boxer, solely in order to be able to box on stage — while singing, obviously — is surely low.
Step forward, Laura J. Bowler. Training is the Opposite, a new short opera by Jennifer Walshe, asks considerably more of its solo mezzo-soprano than most other pieces would dare. Bowler has been in training — proper boxing training — with Cathy “The Bitch” Brown, a former world number three boxer, in preparation: the work essentially consists of her doing a boxing training routine, and singing, accompanied by a string quartet. To be fair to Walshe, she hasn’t asked Bowler to do anything beyond what she’d do herself: she took boxing lessons, too.
This sounds a bit like a daft, headline-grabbing stunt. What elevates it way beyond this is how real it is. This may have been a stage show, but the punches were real. The sweat was real. I’d bet a fair number of the swear words were real, too. It depicted a training session, but let’s be in no doubt: this was the main event.
Let’s remember, in fact, that this performance was way tougher than any “real” training session could possibly be: the precise movements were choreographed (by Brown herself, in fact). There was no opportunity for a break. Did I mention she had to sing during it too?
This is 21st-century virtuosity. It is very impressive.
The fierce focus and power of Cathy “The Bitch” Brown was executed brilliantly as Bowler jabbed, yelled, threatened; she goaded herself on through watching videos, doing sit-ups, shouting insults into the crowd. And, just as importantly, she meditated, from time to time, holding a pose still for a while and singing long, pure tones. In the closing stages, these two strands — the aggressive and the meditative — came together compellingly as she mimed a slow-motion bout with an invisible opponent, soundtracking herself by chanting training mantras. This piece quickly moved beyond the gender issue — it was a tribute to mental fortitude and determination.
Quatuor Bozzini’s contribution to Training, while often seemingly unconnected to Bowler’s, contained similar levels of aggression — at one point the cellist drew a gun and pointed it at her fellow players, and several of them angrily swiped at their music stands. They took to the physicality of this piece perfectly, as they did to the Kagel quartets as well, both similarly concerned with the line beyond live music and performance art.”
By Paul Kilbey in I Care if You Listen (USA), August 21, 2014