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Histoire du Soldat

Checking in with the creative forces behind a bold multimedia production of Stravinsky's post-WWI theater piece

by Victor Reznik in Culture on 24 March 2011

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Meant to be "played, danced and read," one of Igor Stravinsky's most ambitious pieces, "Histoire du Soldat"—penned in the frenzy of post-World War I reconstruction—delves into themes of chaos and absurdity. Tackling the powerful message and Stravinsky's dissonant, pastiched style, director and choreographer Yara Travieso and illustrator Ryan Hartley recently adapted the difficult work for a multimedia spectacle opening tomorrow at NYC's Lincoln Center.

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To visually bring one of Stravinsky's most complicated pieces to life more than a half-century after its inception required an intensive process. Hartley started sitting in on rehearsals early on to reverse-engineer around the motion of the bodies onstage. From there he pulled iconography from period source material and beyond. "As you watch," Hartley explains, "there is a progression of influences in the images from Stalinist Russia to Nazi Propaganda to wartime American propaganda that passes into today's war posters."

The resulting cunning videos form a densely-layered set-piece as compelling as the story playing out in the foreground (performed by dancer Esme Boyce and actor Brendan Spieth). This seamless mix of elements stems from Travieso's careful balance of theatricality and dance. "Multimedia is becoming a visual palette for a lot of audiences that are just used to dance or theatre." she stated, emphasizing, "It is becoming something they are starting to understanding as the next level."

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Of course as much as trends in media influenced the director, as the Faustian tale (a Russian soldier makes a deal with the devil) unravels, the melodies' surrealist proportions drive the production. "The music itself is a mash-up of different influences. From Tango to Russian Folk music, the meter is constantly changing," says Travieso. Where some directors might feel stymied by the challenge, Travieso embraced it as a way to explore the multimedia aspects of the performance. Using disparate elements and technologies to create layers of information, Travieso's staging of "Soldat" fully integrates attempt at realizing what can be possible when the digital and spacial world's interact between each other and in front of an audience.

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Showing as part of this year's Beyond The Machine Festival, hosted by the Juilliard School and featuring electronic and interactive music programs, opens tomorrow 24 March 2011, runs through 27 March 2011 at the Meredith Wilson Theater, and is free to the public.

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