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The Soldier's Tale - Multi-arts Magic

by Joanna G. Harris
November 28, 2011
Berkeley, CA
This show is being performed Nov 17-Dec 18, 2011.

Aurora Theater

Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Muriel Maffre, Peter Callendar, Joan Mankin, the musicians and production staff of Stravinsky's "The Soldiers Tale," have achieved magic in the current offering at the Aurora Theatre. Maffre, who was famous at the SF Ballet for seventeen years, first performed "The Soldier's Tale" at the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival in 2006. Since the stage space is ideal for intimate performances, Maffre contacted Aurora's artistic director Tom Ross who was eager to experiment.

The music ensemble, members of Earplay (a San Francisco Chamber Ensemble) were, (for this performance) Terrie Baune (violin), Peter Joseheff, (clarinet), Kevin Neuhoff, (percussion) and Mary Chun (Music Director/Pianist). Stravinsky's score, written in 1917 with author C.F. Ramuz, was intended as a traveling show, one that could be "read, played and danced." Stravinsky is well known as a composer of ballets: he found fame with both Diaghilev and later with Balanchine at the New York City Ballet.

"The Soldier's Tale" is a Russian folk adaptation of the Faust story. A soldier trades his fiddle (his soul?) to the Devil for a book that predicts the market's future. Despite wealth, he seeks to fulfill his loneliness. He defeats the devil in cards, woos a princess and has almost accomplished fulfillment, when the Devil claims him…such was the bargain. Maffre sees the use of a puppet as the soldier character as a way of illustrating "losing and gaining control over one's life." The puppet, though expressively manipulated by Maffre, always looks a bit heavy, sad, and downcast. Well he was in the Czar's army.

The piece proceeds through the vibrant narration of Peter Callendar, the machinations of the dancing devil, Joan Mankin, the puppet's responses by Maffre, all accompanied by the delightful score.

In the third section, before the Devil claims his due, Maffre sheds her puppeteer outfit (a costume quite like a World War I ambulance driver) for a long white princess dress. She dances the princess' awakening and her delight in her newly found soldier-husband to three variations in the score: a tango, a waltz and ragtime. Although Maffre moves beautifully, those pieces are couple dances and this old dancer longed to see them danced as such, especially the ragtime.

Congratulations are in order to designer Benjamin Pierce, costumer Fumiko Bielefeldt, Donald Pippin for his adaptation of the C.F. Ramuz book and to Jonathan Kuhner for the musical arrangement of the 1918 score. "The Soldier's Tale" is a most adventurous undertaking for the Aurora Theatre Company. We look forward to more such successful events ahead.
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