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Thoughts on Spoleto 2007

ASIAN DANCERS IN BLACK, making shapes, in groups of one, two or three, each entering and exiting the shape at a different time to make more (shapes). Silence. Then music and paint in mitts. Dancers leaving an insect trail of black, then color across a giant floor canvas. Loops, and curls, flow. A painting was made. Shen Wei Dance.

images courtesy of the Spoleto website

CARNIVAL. LIFE IS AFTER ALL. MAGIC TRICKS, seeing life in a mirror. Boy Scout leaves a backpack on the subway, is it a bomb? Dad works in a food irradiation factory. Boy Scout leader is a nut, aren’t they all? Kid earns merit badge the easy way by stealing nuclear substance from Dad’s work place….it’s good to have parents to depend on. Based on Dr. Strangelove. Major Bang, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb.

1930’s. Male female posturing. Politics of gender, historically interesting costumes, the privileged class comes to life in Somerset Maughn’s, Constant Wife. At the Dockstreet Theatre, venerable old building, you can practically hear the fragments of other not-forgotten performances as you walk down the aisles. I always feel somehow like I’ve come home when I enter the Dockstreet. We saw the last show before it undergoes three years of historic renovation. From the Gate Theatre, London/Dublin, superb interpretation including some incredibly physical comedic reactions by the male lead, but this was about women and their power to get their way in the world dominated by men, or so it seemed on the surface back then.

World renowned ballerina and her artistic troupe, she’s been dancing since she stopped being a national figure skating champion at age 10. First danced the role of Odette at 17 and got a 30 minute standing ovation! A troupe from Georgia (no not the state next to Alabama, former Soviet Union state) with over 60 dancers. Yikes that’s some production cost. Talk about government subsidized ambassadors of good will. Holy stack of rubles, Batman. (Actually a Lari–Russian Ruble [RUR] was formerly in use, but Robin doesn’t know that.) Classic performance. Age old mannerisms, audience with expectations for the familiar but on a grand scale. Swan Lake.

Advertised as the Tango, but really a “tango orchestra” with one couple who showed up every once in a while to tango, wonderful interesting compositions popular during era of tango’s trek across the ocean to catch fire in the clubs of Paris (1920’s)….but no accordians? I don’t think so. That’s not a tango band. However, the cellist and a young violinist were so good they could pull emotion from the strings and sling it directly into the heart of a listener thirty feet away. Quintango.

Corrugated metal walls and dungeon like elements (with flat plywood painted backdrops and set pieces within to define a world of misinthropes and despair at life’s smallness when seen from a poverty of morality with the lost souls/criminal element running from the law who find their opp in starting a city, Mahoganny, where nothing but pleasure is allowed, if you have the dough. You knife someone, it’s a fine. You can’t pay your bill, it’s death by hanging. Enter our innocents, Alaskan fisherman, who live and then die in Mahoganny,not nearly as happy and hopeful as when they arrived (she said, in an understated way). Garish, comic operatic force. German dissonant music dark and rich and compelling. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Troupe are Brecht experts, having performed all of his plays/.operas. Grand. Memorable. One of two things at Spoleto I can hear in my head still as I write this. City of Mahoganny.

Nearly bare stage. Row of about 10 chairs in the background, of many styles and modern eras, with three actors spread out among, sitting as audience enters, shufflling and talking. These chairs will disappear behind the first backdrop when the performance begins and we will never see these chairs again, nor will they hold further significance, Act I is signified by the rise of a piece of taped up white paper stapled to a 2 x 20 or longer, hauled up by cords and tied to metal pole frame. The three actors position themselves left center and middle facing the crowd, in ordinary street dress. The dialogue is the story, the myth told in small words as they help us to understand the motivations and emotional condition of the characters. How does Jason feel? from the woman’s mouth as she is him, from the tall guy, as he is him, all little words and we know who is talking because they tell us, not making us guess. And Medea, so hard to get….killing her children, how, why could this happen? the mystery of ages, the pain. The chorus is there, embodied by one. Or the other. The chorus is SAD, they know something bad is coming, as choruses do, but they are helpless to change what will occur. When an Act ends, the actors reach up and tear down the while taped vulnerable piece of paper that was their back piece and walk a row forward, pull up Act II’s screen, another very like the first, scarred and taped taped taped, but still light shows through the scarring. and they continue, and two more times until the story is told. Mesmorizing dialogue and delivey, modern and so very odd, but such good storytelling, which is an art. Oh, you should know…dialogue peppered with modern lyrics, from the Beatles and others. fit into the flow almost unnoticed. Wow. The kind of interpretive thing I dream to find. This has been performed across Europe (not in Dutch) but in English, to good reviews. This was the first time they have performed MedEia in English in front of an English-speaking audience. Contemporary (very!) take on Greek myth of Medea and Jason/Argonauts, from Dood Paard, a Dutch troupe. Note the spelling of Medea combined with Media.

The pièce de résistance. Philip Glass on keyboards for his own creation. The man, the genius, the real deal. There on stage, with the most incredible singers and musicians, each one worth going to see on own, singing the lyrics to Leonard Cohen poems. A peek:

And sometimes when the night is slow

The wretched and the meek

We gather up our hearts and go

A thousand kisses deep

And fragrant is the thought of you

The file on you complete

Except what we forgot to do

A thousand kisses deep

First time in the US…premiered one week before in Toronto at Luminata (festival) where both the composer, Glass, and the lyricist/poet of the words, Leonard Cohen (himself a Canadian of some regard) attended. Won’t be seen again until mid July at its NYC debut at Lincoln Center. A gem. Perfection from top to bottom. Can’t even buy a CD of the opera/concert yet. No recordings so far.

Learn more: http://www.spoletousa.org/

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