Once Upon a Time, in a land called The Power Center…
Photo: A scene in Snow White by Ballet Preljocaj.
Every great story rests upon a conflict of good and evil. As children, we might encounter lessons from this kind of conflict through fairy tales, morals and legends. We hear frightening tales with themes of greed, lust, disobedience, and consequences that most often resolve with the poetic justice of a happily-ever- after ending. These age-old tales are an imaginative vehicle for children to relate to the dark side of human nature and to understand the power of choice and free will.
Fairy tales are not just for children however. There’s been an increase in fairy-tale prime time TV, ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s Grimm, for example, as well as a surge in live-action movies, Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, to name a couple. As adults, we still love these stories and we still relate to their symbols and themes.
The Andersen Project is inspired by the life of Hans Christian Andersen and highlights the fairy tale “The Dryad,” which is set in nineteenth century Paris and follows a young dryad who lives within chestnut tree on the outskirts of the city. The dryad longs to see the Paris she hears about in the stories of those who travel past her. When her wish is granted, she is moved the heart of the city, but her happiness there is short-lived. As Her true desire is not for the city, but for the freedom of movement, it turns out. When this wish is granted, it comes with a heavy cost. Read the whole story.
The Andersen Project also references Andersen’s “The Shadow.” In “The Shadow,” a man loses his own shadow. One night, it returns, knocking on his door and appearing almost human. The shadow grows richer and fatter, while the man grows poorer and weaker. In fact, the man is so ill that his shadow proposes a trip to a health resort, on the condition that the shadow can act as the master. At the resort, the shadow meets a princess, and later when the two are about to be marry, the shadow offers the man a position within the castle if he agrees to become his own shadow permanently. In the end, the secret swap is revealed and the consequences are deadly. Read the whole story.
We interviewed The Andersen Project’s lead actor Yves Jacques. Start at 3:16 mark to learn about how old ways of storytelling influenced director Robert Lepage’s construction of this project.
Snow White may be a more familiar story for most. Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj explains that his narrative ballet is not the myth or legend of Snow White, but the story of Snow White herself. He follows the Grimm brothers’ version version but adds small variations. The wicked stepmother is the central character of the tale. He examines her through her narcissistic determination not to give up on seduction and on her role as a woman, even if this means sacrificing her stepdaughter. Do you need a Snow White refresher? Read the whole story.
We are living during a climatic time in history and our choices can be felt globally thanks to technology. Is it any wonder that artists are turning to the world of fairy tales to highlight the fight between good and evil or the power of choice? Fairy tales allow us to reach into our imagination and to examine the good and evil that reside in all of us.
Why do you think fairy tales are on the rise? What are your favorite fairy tales?
5 Things to Know About The Andersen Project
1. Lepage initially created the role that is now performed by Yves Jacques, his “go-to” person for his one-man shows (Jacques was also the actor in Far Side of the Moon in 2005). The play is multi-layered and, like 08/09 Season’s Complicite, enjoyable on many levels – either at the top-level story or digging deeper into the meaning at its core.
2. Jacques plays all three main characters: Frederic, an albino rock lyricist from Montreal who heads to Paris to write the libretto for a children’s opera based on a Hans Christian Andersen story; Arnaud, the opera company’s fast-talking administrator whose personal life is unraveling due to his sexual obsessions; and Rashid, a Moroccan janitor who mops up after clients at a peep show that is located on the first floor of the same building that houses the apartment Frederic is subletting.
3. An example of the multi-layered structure: Lepage was commissioned to write a piece about Andersen to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth. His story is about a man who is commissioned to write a libretto for a children’s opera about Andersen. Two of Andersen’s fairy tales are woven into the script. The Dryad is about a tree nymph who sacrifices a long life in the woods for a single day in Paris – a parallel to the librettist, who is seeking artistic validation outside of his own country.
4. Those who have traveled in France will see many connections to what makes the French, well, French. There’s an opening monologue by the opera director, Arnaud, that is breathtaking in its scope and humor – nearly 2,000 words run together in a rambling yet coherent style that only the great storytellers like Spalding Gray or Garrison Keillor can accomplish. The monologue is performed with a strong accent, and every word is not intended to be understood — it’s meant to give a flavor of the character and his obsessive personality.
5. The piece is in both English and French (with supertitles). The constantly shifting projections and stagecraft make the technical aspects of the production at least as fascinating as the story itself.
Ultimately, The Andersen Project is really about an artist searching for validation and fame, unraveling relationships, and dealing with personal demons. The story itself is accessible in that The Andersen Project focuses on larger life issues that virtually everyone deals with at some point and can relate to in multiple ways.
See The Andersen Project March 15-17 at the Power Center.
People are Talking: UMS Night School – Session 4
UMS Night School is a free and open to the public series of “classes”, which include a 30-minute discussion of each performance in Pure Michigan Renegade, plus a 60-minute intro session for the next performance on the series. You’ll find follow-up conversation, coverage, and materials here on the Lobby.
“Required Reading” and “Required Watching” from Malcolm Tulip, Associate Professor of Theatre at U-M
“Once upon a time, the historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth collected fairytales in Bavaria, which were locked away in an archive until now.”
2. Interview with Robert Lepage for Theatre Music Canada.
In Lypsinch (2007) Lepage intends to “show us a mosaic of human struggles for identity, to assemble a composite portrait of contemporary society voicing over and dubbing out our primal emotional needs. Lepage wants to make us aware of how we control and doctor the sounds surrounding us to cover up the voices of those in genuine need.” via Village Voice
3. Director Robert Lepage Speaks on what inspired him to create The Nightingale & Other Short Fables, a collection of works by composer Igor Stravinsky that made its world premier in October 2009.
4. More about The Andersen Project
Preview in Paris Voice: “the piece is not a retelling of any one of Anderson’s tales but rather an open-ended study, undertaken to examine, create around and perhaps finally understand better both the creator and his work.”
5. More about Hans Christian Andersen
Elsewhere on the Lobby:
Our interview with The Andersen Project’s lead actor Yves Jacques, and 5 Things to Know About The Andersen Project.
We’ll add your suggestions for further reading, listening, and watching here.
What did you think of this session of Night School? What’s still not making sense? What are you excited about?
11/12 International Theater Series
This year’s International Theater Series features three productions at the Power Center. The series begins with Ireland’s acclaimed Gate Theater Company performing a double-bill of two one-act plays by Samuel Beckett, Endgame and Watt. As previously announced, the series continues with Einstein on the Beach, the seminal opera by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson with choreography by Lucinda Childs. Considered one of the most remarkable performance works of our time, this performances launches a world tour of what will likely be the last reconstructions of this work designed and led by its original creators. Closing the series is The Andersen Project, a solo performance created by Canadian theater visionary Robert Lepage and performed by Yves Jacques that explores sexual identity, unfulfilled fantasies, and the thirst for recognition and fame through Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless fables.
Subscription packages go on sale to the general public on Monday, May 9, and will be available through Friday, September 17. Current subscribers will receive renewal packets in early May and may renew their series upon receipt of the packet. Tickets to individual events will go on sale to the general public on Monday, August 22 (via www.ums.org) and Wednesday, August 24 (in person and by phone). Not sure if you’re on our mailing list? Click here to update your mailing address to be sure you’ll receive a brochure.
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Watt
Gate Theatre of Dublin
Michael Cogan, director
Thursday, October 27, 7:30 pm
Friday, October 28, 8 pm
Saturday, October 29, 8 pm
Straight from Ireland comes the Gate Theatre, largely considered the interpreter of Beckett in the world. Endgame, like Waiting for Godot, is considered one of Beckett’s most important works, written in a style associated with the Theatre of the Absurd. The bizarre adventures of Watt (a novel written while Beckett was in hiding during World War II) and his struggles to make sense of the world around him is told with elegant simplicity, immense pathos, and explosive humor. This week-long residency will be accompanied by a week-long festival of the complete Beckett works on film.
Philip Glass & Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach
Lucinda Childs, choreographer
Friday, January 20, 7pm
Saturday, January 21, 7pm
Sunday, January 22, 2pm
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” — Albert Einstein
Widely credited as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century, this rarely-performed work will be reconstructed for a major international tour (including the first North American presentations ever held outside of New York City) nearly four decades after it was first performed and 20 years since its last production. Non-narrative in form, the work uses a series of powerful recurrent images as its main storytelling device, shown in juxtaposition with abstract dance sequences created by American choreographer Lucinda Childs. Prior to the production’s final technical rehearsals and world premiere in Montpelier, France, UMS will host the creators, musicians, performers, and crew for Einstein for three weeks as they reconstruct and rehearse the work for what is likely to be the final world tour designed and led by its creators. These early preview performances will be the only opportunity to see Einstein on the Beach in the Midwest.
Click the video below to watch some excerpts from Einstein on the Beach with audio commentary from collaborator Robert Wilson.
Filled to the brim with his trademark humor and visual and technological brilliance, this off-the-wall masterpiece by Canadian theater visionary Robert Lepage stars Yves Jacques (Far Side of the Moon) in a one-man tour-de-force about a Canadian writer from the rock-and-roll milieu who is unexpectedly commissioned by the Opera Garnier in Paris to write a libretto for a children’s opera. Freely inspired by the timeless fables written by Hans Christian Andersen, who as it turns out, didn’t really like children, as well as anecdotes from the author’s personal diaries, The Andersen Project keenly explores unraveling relationships, personal demons, the thirst for recognition, and compromise that comes too late.