Monday, October 12, 2009

Weekend Update: Sappho and Sedaris

I love the juxtaposition of the two events I attended this weekend. In fact, my brain is overflowing with very different stimuli.

Thanks to Josh for asking about the Sappho event. I had planned to blog about it Saturday when I returned home, but, alas, I became sidetracked. First, let me reiterate that the translator is my very good friend Rebecca Resinski, a classics professor at Hendrix College.

The word that came to mind after viewing and hearing the performance of Fragments from Sappho was "enchanting." On stage, twenty dancers (16 women and 4 men) performed, sometimes as a whole, sometimes in pairs or larger numbered groups but still all together, and sometimes as pairs or solos while the rest of the group posed in interesting configurations and "attended." (Let me just say that commenting on this type of work is way outside my realm of expertise, so I'm sure I'm missing some of the lingo.) Also on stage were two local soprano vocalists, Suzanne Banister and Joanne McDade. The music had been pre-recorded, but with the quality of technology today, it felt seamless with the whole. So, from time to time, the sopranos sang from the translation while the dancers created the most amazing forms on stage. From time to time, the dancers recited (sometimes still and sometimes moving) from the translations, forming a Greek chorus effect.

Rebecca gave me a little backstory into how this all came together, and I hope she won't mind me sharing a bit for the curious writers out there. Several years ago, she was working on a translation project of Sappho fragments. She translated the fragments and then "re-envisioned" them into a larger whole. Her piece contains 17 sections. Each section draws on words and clauses from different fragments, reformed into a whole. At the top of each section, she labels from which fragments the words are drawn, but does not break it down any further than that.

Rebecca showed her piece to some folks in the arts department and they wanted to collaborate on a performance piece. The translation was given to Karen Griebling, who composed the music and decided what would be sung and what would be recited. This was given to Brigitte Rogers, who choreographed the performance. Finally, the student dancers and the sopranos were brought in to rehearse and perform.

As I watched the piece, it struck me that I rarely see true performance pieces such as this. It was performed four times over the weekend, and now it is done. Poof, as they say. I'm sure this is a common occurrence in larger cities, and maybe even here in Little Rock and I'm just unaware of such things. However, most of the events I attend here are readings and performances of plays and such that are already in the canon. Of course, there is a chance that somebody might hear of this and want to perform/reproduce it elsewhere, but it would not be quite the same, I think. I feel fortunate to have been there.


Shifting gears to David Sedaris, there isn't nearly as much to say, mostly because he's so well known. His reading was amazing and hilarious and touching in small moments and just what I needed at this point in the semester. On the walk back to the car, my chest ached from laughing so hard. It was great to hear that 1,300 people attended because the whole show was a fundraiser for the Arkansas Literary Festival. Unfortunately, I won't be at the Lit Festival this year because it is the same weekend as AWP, but I'm glad I was able to chip in last night and get such a great return. on my contribution. "Laugh kookaburra, Laugh kookaburra, Gay your life must be!"

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