Antigona

Antigona Church

A dark stage, save one white light, shining like a beacon from above, casting a circle onto the black wooden floor.  Silence echoes off the stain glass windows, the rows of seats, and paper fans beating in anticipation, held by sweaty palms.

Then she steps in, and her heel drops.

The first beat, resounding in the cavernous space, then the second, and her face looks out asking,

“Why?”

As her fingers slice the air, breaking up the spotlight, she beckons us to join, surveying the dark, and lifting her skirt to reveal her voice.

The voice in her shoes.

Her song begins, and her call received as the spotlight widens to three guitars, singers, dancers, and a drummer, answering in kind as the music builds and all join in.

Welcome to the Story.

Welcome to Flamenco.  

 

This week I sat in absolute awe, witnessing Noche Flamenca’s production of Antigona, playing at the West Park Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  While I am familiar with Sophocles’ Greek Tragedy, I have never seen this company, nor a stage production of the tale.

Their inventive storytelling, and powerful imagery sent shivers through my body.

“The themes in the work include catharsis, issues of dictatorship, repression, loss, the strength of family and female empowerment; strong themes not only in Sophocles but also in flamenco.”

I found that there were two main items that moved me to my core as I sat in the wooden pew: the total integration of all the artists on stage, and Antigone herself,

Soledad Barrio.

This was my first time witnessing her perform.  I have read about her several times in dance reviews, and as she turned and commanded the stage, I began to fully understand the words typed out in magazines and newspapers.

Soledad, born in Madrid, has appeared as a soloist with countless dance companies, winning awards from over 15 different countries, including a “Bessie” for Outstanding Creative Achievement.  Tonight her role wasn’t just as the lead, but also as choreographer.

As goosebumps rose up my legs, and I leaned forward in my seat, I knew my engagement was reflected by her commitment.  She strode onto the stage, a Goddess alight, with one intention,

To tell the story.

And all were with her in this intention.  All 18 bodies, whether creating from their hands, their heels, their guitar strings, their wailing voices, or their tapping fingers, all joined to create the world at the gate of Thebes.

They spoke
They sang
They played

And they danced.

At times, I felt I could do no more than just take in the whole, as each artist’s mastery filled the sanctuary.  I marveled at the singer’s soaring breath control, the guitarist’s intricate picking, and the director’s creative staging.

Elements intertwined in fabric, masks, levels, lighting, language, and movement.  I saw influence of traditional Greek tragedy to contemporary communication, jumping between chorus, duet, and solo.

If I isolated each of these things in the moment, I was lost.

The power was their integration.

 

I went from sitting forward, to exhaling back throughout the 90 minutes, slowly sipping a spicy ice tea and holding the sweating plastic to my skin to cool me down.

I was entranced.

Antigone entered the stage for her final solo in a long black dress, her exiled dance in a rocky cave.  In a semi circle stage left, sat a line of men, awaiting her cue.  Their intent and focus narrowed into her feet, her breath, and when she gave the signal, they exploded in song and rhythm, accompanying her dance.  The timing was flawless.

There was complete connection.

 

Upon the final moment I leapt to my feet to clap, hands raised in appreciation as I shouted out, “Bravo!”  My friends and I stayed rooted in our spot, even as the actors exited, and the audience left.  The energy was buzzing through our bodies.

The energy of inspiration.

We went for food and drink, our impressions and observations spilling over like sprinklers in a summer backyard.  The fire created now burned within our minds and planted seeds, wanting to emerge in our next projects.

What had we just experienced?

 

As I road the subway home in the urban July twilight, I read the program, and grabbed a pencil to underline the small black type:

“All aspects of flamenco – dance, song, and music – are interrelated and given weight creating a true communal spirit within the company: the very heart and soul of flamenco”

Each element indeed, all related to the whole.

So, in this moment of communion, what are you bringing?  

I’ll see you at the sprinkler.
Antigon Soledad

Theatre Language

El Laurel Lantern

A voice soars over the dark silence, piercing through the musty summer air; calling to be heard, announcing new beginnings with an upturned palm.

The other hand holds her skirt, gathered at her hip, the patchwork rags and neutral muslin already in sway.

Then the castanets begin.

The lights turn warm on her face, illuminating the whole stage. White to orange, yellows and golds, she begins to glow as the music builds.

In a tight-knit circle, eyes focused to center, all surround, gathering their energy and rhythm, clapping in time and answering in kind.

Sea Norabuena
Norabuena Sea!

 

My summer months have been filled with the tale of Daphne, Apollo and Cupid, choreographing an original piece for Repertorio Espanol, here in New York City.

El Laurel de Apolo is a Zarzuela:

“a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, the latter incorporating operatic and popular song, as well as dance.”

We have taken a script from the 17th century and added original contemporary music, and modern design and choreographic elements to bring this story to audiences at this historic Manhattan theatre.

The piece is all in high Spanish verse with English subtitles.

I don’t speak Spanish.

Well, maybe un poco.

 

When I was interviewed by the director for the job, I was taken by her energy and her vision for the piece, tying in elements of consumption, feminism, and politics. I loved her design inspiration and attention to detail.

But, what I really resonated with was her desire for collaboration.

Our first company rehearsal was a Meet and Greet in the director’s apt, complete with pasta, laughter, and introductions. The cast all brought research they had done on their characters and from the very beginning, a common thread was formed, and a common engagement.

Over cookies and fruit, I met the creative team, and soon we were throwing out ideas for Daphne’s transformation into a tree. The set designer brought out sketches, and the lighting designer added in color inspiration.

I could feel my excitement rise, as our voices joined for the new vision.

This is the kind of art I love. One made from many.

 

As I threw out my earnest attempts at connection during rehearsal, the cast and team smiled with encouragement, playfully teasing my pronunciation:

Gracias
De nada
Adios
Principio!
Como Estas?

While the cast taught me some new words, I found myself humming a song from my childhood, a tune I sang when I lived in Clovis, New Mexico, one I had forgotten:

Adios Hasta Manana
Adios Hasta Manana
Adios Hasta Manana
Adios adios adios!

I learned to speak in the small English village of Wheatley, but the first foreign language I heard was Spanish.

In between my Barbies and running through the summer sprinkler, I sang this song, a four year old bounding to her sandbox, and playing in the Southwestern American sun.

There was no awareness of separation, just the words pouring out in song, in fun. These were just other words to say the same thing, in a different way.

And now, I stood before a script and music score all in Spanish and created a physical story to be understood regardless of language.

A return to childhood.

A return for us all.

 

I sit in the theatre as the lights dim, dressed in silk and heels, my rehearsal pants hanging in my closet at home. Before me, the Nymph Iris walks downstage to a mic, holding her guitar, and posed for the first chord.

I see the director, the lighting designer, set designer, costume designer, composer, and stage management team; their faces towards the stage, awaiting the first note.

The subtitles light up in my view, but I know the story now.

No translation needed.

This language makes perfect sense.

Titiriti