It started, as many family projects do, in the kitchen.
“She was playing me some of the tracks that were going to be used,” Elgort says. What he was hearing sounded dated, and he said, “If this is a modern show, it can’t sound 10 or 15 years old. I said, ‘You’ve got to get someone who can do newer stuff.’ She said, ‘Can you give me some of your stuff?’”
Elgort is best known around the world as a movie star from roles in the film “The Fault in Our Stars” the TV series “Divergent” and last summer’s surprise hit film “Baby Driver.” But he also has an active career as a musician, both as a singer and as an electronic dance music producer. That initially made him reluctant to go to work on Mom’s project. He figured that current basketball music should be more hip-hop oriented.
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But he gave her a piece he had been working on with a hip-hop feel, and when members of the production liked it, she asked for more.
“I think there are between seven and 10 tracks that I’ve made for the show,” Elgort says.
That show, “Bounce: The Basketball Opera” will have its world premiere this weekend at the outreach and recreation center at Calvary Baptist Church. The show is a collaboration between Holby’s Ardea Arts/Family Opera Initiative and the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre. The primary music is by Broadway composer Glen Roven, and Elgort’s contributions are mainly heard during the basketball scenes. The story was written by author Charles R. Smith Jr., and former Kentucky poet laureate Frank X Walker also has contributed to the book.
“Bounce” is a project that started years ago, when Holby was reading her sons — Elgort and his older brother Warren Elgort — basketball books by Walter Dean Myers. She was struck by a scene in which a player missed a potentially game-winning shot and the coach said, “You’re afraid to win.”
“I was blown away by these stories, because it was about basketball as a microcosm of life,” Holby says.
Holby has been at the forefront of American opera for more than 25 years, cutting her teeth with Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach.” As a director and producer, she has been involved with many innovative projects that bring contemporary themes and music into opera and bring opera into new venues, such as basketball courts.
Most potential collaborators in the opera world were cool to the idea of a basketball opera, but she found an enthusiastic collaborator in UK Opera director Everett McCorvey.
He said, “Are you kidding me?! How could we not be involved? This is the basketball Mecca of the universe,” she said.
Holby has spent a good part of the last few years in Lexington, getting somewhat immersed in Big Blue Nation culture while creating this opera about a high school basketball player, based in part on the story of Icarus. Presenting the story on real basketball courts, Holby says, makes it accessible to much larger, more diverse audiences than theater-based opera.
“She’s not a snooty art person,” Elgort says of his mother. “She does what she likes. She’s been doing that since the ’80s. So, it’s cool to finally be working with her on one of her projects.”
This is the first formal collaboration between mother and son, although Holby notes that their artistic family regularly works together. Her husband, Arthur Elgort, is a fashion photographer, as is their daughter Sophie Elgort, and Warren is a filmmaker. The “Bounce” collaboration with Ansel really was hatched around the kitchen table, but Holby says she did have a contract drawn up, and Elgort’s record label, Island, signed off on it.
“They probably thought, ‘This is just some opera thing he’s doing with his mom,’ but this could really turn out to be something kind of big,” Holby says.
Elgort says, “She’s trying to make modern opera; stuff people can go and see because, even me — I’m in the theater, I’m in the art world, and I can’t go to an opera at the Met and sit through the whole thing. They’re long, and they’re old stories in a different language. … They’re not current enough, and I think it’s a dying art. She’s been wanting to make stuff that people can see and won’t fall asleep in.
“She calls it opera, but I would say it’s more like theater. It’s very theatrical, and obviously there are opera elements to the singing, but that’s one reason I wanted to get involved, because I said, ‘Mom, you’re making a show about basketball, and I’m a modern music producer. Let me produce tracks for it that give it a modern vibe.”
Elgort, who will be in Lexington for Friday’s and Saturday’s performances, is frequently part of the bevy of celebrities at New York Knicks games — psst, Ansel: Mom would like to go to a game with you — and says he appreciates a game itself as being theatrical and can easily see a story in that setting.
“I’m a fan of modern music,” he says, “I’m a fan of basketball, and I’m a fan of what my mother does, so that’s why I wanted to be involved.”
Rich Copley: @copiousnotes.
If you go
“Bounce: A Basketball Opera”
What: World premiere production presented by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, 11; 2 p.m. Nov. 12
Where: Calvary Baptist Church Recreation Outreach Center, 150 E. High St.
Tickets: $18 adults, $9 students