Is there anything Joelysa Pankanea can’t do? The 41-year-old composer has won multiple awards for her work in musical theatre. She’s written scores for films, for chamber ensemble, and for choir. She’s trained as a classical pianist, is an expressive performer on the marimba, and is increasingly exploring the world of electronic music. But, she says, she can’t sing. She might be lying.
Over the phone from her West End home, Pankanea warbles the main theme from her new adaptation of Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film Bicycle Thieves, and while she has a small voice compared to some of the belters she’s written for, it’s clear and true. And that melody! Pankanea’s wistful, waltz-time tune is somehow both fresh and nostalgic, which makes it a perfect fit for De Sica’s black-and-white masterpiece.
An early and acclaimed example of Italian neorealism, Bicycle Thieves depicts a family trying to survive amid the rubble of post-Mussolini Rome, where owning wheels, even pedal-powered ones, can mean the difference between eating and not. In today’s crumbling economy, there are parallels to be drawn, but De Sica’s formal innovations also keep his images relevant. Working without sets, often using ordinary people rather than trained actors, he blurred the line between drama and documentary in a way that still inspires filmmakers today.
Pankanea’s initial response to Bicycle Thieves was more emotional than intellectual, however. Her project, which involves wiping the original soundtrack and adding both a quartet of live narrators and her own original score, was commissioned by former PuSh International Performing Arts Festival artistic director Norman Armour.
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