C h a m p i o n : An Opera in Jazz
Nicole Paiment - conductor
Brian Staufenbiel - director
Terence Blanchard - composer
Michael Cristofer - librettist
Joe Orrach - choreographer, boxing
/movement coach/ speedbag artist
A groundbreaking work combining the disciplines of opera and jazz, Terence Blanchard’s Champion tells the real-life story of world champion boxer Emile Griffith, a man haunted by memories of his past who struggled to reconcile his sexuality in a hyper-macho world. Co-produced by Opera Parallèle and SFJAZZ (2016), Champion’s visually stunning production features full staging and video elements with soloists, a jazz trio, orchestra and Gospel chorus, bringing out the full glory of Blanchard’s soulful score as it illuminates Griffith’s triumphs and struggles, still powerfully relevant today.
Eric A. Gordon wrote about Joe's performance in People's World, saying "A special note needs to be made of Joe Orrach, Champion’s choreographer, who happens to be a U.S. Air Force Welterweight Champion. He opens the show with an extended solo at the speed bag, which he uses expertly as a percussion instrument. Opening the second act, Orrach thrills again, this time with a kind of tap dance for agile boxer’s feet, becoming a virtuoso turn at skipping rope, varying rhythms and a range of sound effects from those tools like a trained orchestra player."
Eddie Reynolds echoed this praise through his article for Theatre Eddys, writing "Perhaps the biggest applause of the evening went to the Second Act’s opening minutes. One boxer with hooded robe covering most of his head and face begins practicing his footwork. With a stage that becomes his drum, he commences a jazz solo that is packed with complicated rhythms, sudden shifts in tempo, and beats that electrify – all suddenly accompanied by his jump rope with magical powers all its own. Choreographer Joe Orrach not only has choreographed the movements and dances that illustrate the opera’s action so magnificently all evening, he solos both here and in the opening speed bag sequence with show-stopping performances."