A BRIGHT LIGHT: Once upon a time, on a New York stage, an actor poked my ribs with a blunted sword while shouting angrily in Greek.
It was the late '70s, at New York's experimental La Mama Theatre in the East Village. It was a brand-new production of The Trojan Women. A collaboration between Elizabeth Swados, then a wunderkind composer, and the noted director Andrei Serban, the haunting drama was conducted entirely in Greek. Virtually all the words were chanted to Swados' austere music. The members of the audience weren't allowed to settle in comfortably and passively to watch the action: No, we were herded out of our seats by a troop of surly soldiers so we could become the hapless victims of war.
The unconventional Swados, who won her first big theatre award at age 21 (an Obie for a musical version of Medea), will be in Tucson next week for the Old Pueblo premiere of her musical work Bible Women. The piece, a "contemporary song cycle," will be performed as part of an unusual Jewish arts project called Genesis: Culture, Continuity & Community. This weeklong residency sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the UA College of Fine Arts will feature performances and workshops by four noted artists whose work explores, among other things, their Jewish identity. Besides Swados, the week will showcase dancer/choreographer Tamar Rogoff, visual artist Ruth Weisberg and composer Andy Teirstein.
Swados, now in her mid-40s, has covered a lot of terrain since her early days doing Greek off-Broadway. She has a reputation as one of the most intellectual, most daring and most boundary-breaking of theatre lights. (She's also the author of numerous critically acclaimed books.) Her theatre work is not exactly Broadway-musical material, though she's had a couple of Broadway hits, including the long-running Runaways. As she once told a reporter, "What I set out to do was make an experimental musical theatre--change the face of the musical theatre."
For one thing, she still occasionally works in foreign tongues. In her 1992 Jerusalem, she used the warring languages of that torn city to illustrate the painful babble of conflict. And she still uses the most-un-Broadway-like sources, particularly the Hebrew Bible. Job debuted in 1991; Jonah in 1989.
"The Biblical stories provide a remarkable opportunity to compose interesting music using characters who have tremendous modern resonance," Swados told a New York Times reporter when Job was about to premiere.
Sawados' new work is based on the stories of seven women of the Hebrew Bible: Esther, Vashti, Ruth, Sarah, Miriam, Lilith, Eve and Deborah. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, Swados described the work as "very strongly vocal, which is what I love to do. A lot of the words are poetry from the Bible, which is adapted, so it's both ancient and hip, which is something I love to do, and it's strong women, which I like." But it's not a "theatrical musical theater piece as (much) as it is a dramatic song cycle."
Bible Women will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday, October 26, at the UA Crowder Hall. A reception will follow at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $25. For reservations call 621-1162.
Composer Andy Teirstein and dancer/choreographer Tamar Rogoff will present Into the Wilderness, a program for interfaith families and children, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, October 22, at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, River Road and Dodge Boulevard. For information call 299-3000.
A reception for the artist Ruth Weisberg will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, October 22, at the Joseph Gross Gallery in the UA Fine Arts Complex. Weisberg will also be at the gallery from 2 to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, October 24 and 26. Her installation, "Sisters and Brothers," is on view at the gallery through October 29. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Tamar Rogoff will present a free one-woman show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 28, at the Center for Creative Photography on the UA campus. Using videos and slides, Rogoff will evoke her dance work The Ivye Project, originally performed in Ivye, Belarus, where 29 of Rogoff's relatives were slain by the Nazis in World War II. For more information call 621-7968.
For general information on the Genesis events call 577-9393.
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