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Chapel Hill, NC-based Wordshed Productions will present Rime: Woman, Bird, and Beast — a new highly theatrical dance piece adapted from classic poems and directed, choreographed, and performed by Wordshed company members Hannah Blevins, Eve Crevoshay, and SaRAH! Kocz — Nov. 6-9 in the Martha Nell Hardy Theater in Bingham Hall 203 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Wordshed describes the piece as a contemporary retelling of classic poems that is "Part ghost story, part morality tale" and notes that Rime draws its stories from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by English poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), "Leda and the Swan" by Irish poet and playwright W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), and other poems and narratives.
Hannah Blevins is a doctoral candidate in UNC's Performance Studies program, Eve Crevoshay is an M.A. student in UNC's Communication Studies program, and SaRAH! Kocz is a recent graduate of the Communication Studies program.
"We began discussing options for a dance piece last spring and a number of wonderful possibilities were brought to the table," recalls SaRAH! Kocz. "Eve Crevoshay, who appears in Rime, was excited about the prospects of working on some Leda poetry. There are an astounding number of poems written around Leda's story as well as paintings depicting the 'event.'"
Kocz claims, "It's an incredibly complex image: Zeus coming down in the form of a swan, hovering above Leda. It is at once about the other worldly beauty of this incredible bird — majestic giant, glowing with light, impossible wingspan, neck. And yet brutal. Rape or not. The image was a lie. Could Zeus have 'mastered' her without the feathers?"
SaRAH! Kocz adds, "Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' struck me with its imagery. The fluidity of narrative and environment that dance can afford really lent itself to Rime, to both pieces really. I'd never read/studied the text in school and so perhaps part of the allure in the beginning was the chance to tinker with some canonical texts that I was somewhat free from. I had never had an English teacher in high school or college tell me what to do with Coleridge, so it was completely open territory for interpretation and play.
"Likewise with William Butler Yeats' poem 'Leda and the Swan.' It's known. It's read, worked in classes, but it's one man's point of view," says Kocz. "Digging into the contemporary female poet perspectives of Heather Ross Miller's 'Leda Talks' and Beckian Fritz Goldberg's 'Leda,' we were able to invite them into the same place and time, see where they talk, where they contradict and extend each other," Kocz says.
"The time I spent this past summer studying at the International Dell'Arte School for Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California, really clinched it for me," Kocz says. "When I came back, I had so many ideas of what these pieces could do and become. I was especially excited about the possibilities for our process."
She adds, "While we didn't end up using actual masks in either adaptation (Rime is a constant flux of character and environment and masks ultimately proved too limiting if you can believe that!), this rehearsal process was very much based on the mask work I did at Dell'Arte — realizing our bodies as instruments, seeing and stretching the possibilities of what our bodies can create literally or evoke emotionally, building a common gestural vocabulary from disparate movement backgrounds, creating characters and environments on our feet, getting away from the page, and letting the work evolve as it's own organism through a committed, fun process."
SaRAH! Kocz says, "Rime: Woman, Bird, and Beast has evolved completely out of a collaborative movement-based process. It's experimental and exploratory and very human."
She adds, "When Zeus courted Leda in the form of a swan, she bore two sets of twins: Helen and Klytemnestra and Kastor and Polydeuces — four threads of fate that eventually led to the Trojan War, the Marriage of Thetis, the Curse of the House of Tantalus, and the Curse upon Troy and Priam.
"The canonical text exploring Leda's story," Kocz claims, "is William Butler Yeats' 'Leda and the Swan.' The contention over the actual story — Was Leda seduced? Raped? — and the resulting tragedy has been fodder for many contemporary recastings. Rime dramatizes Leda's story interlacing text, voice, and movement through Yeats' 'Leda and the Swan,' Heather Ross Miller's 'Leda Talks,' and Beckian Fritz Goldberg's 'Leda.'"
She adds, "Coleridge's lyrical ballad 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' is at once the ultimate dream voyage to another realm and the quintessential representation of modern man's isolation. The Ancient Mariner is a man haunted by his past. While on a ship crossing through the arctic with a crew of 200 men, he shot and killed the Albatross that had accompanied them through the fog and mist. For this killing of a good omen (for no reason given), the spirits of the deep haunt the ship, exacting revenge by making the voyage unbearable."
Kocz says, "The Mariner is only saved once he can appreciate the beauty of all living things 'both great and small.' But ultimately there is no peace for him as he is driven to roam from land to land and tell his ghastly tale. A would-be morality tale with a skip at the end of the record that forever repeats, thick with rich sea imagery and haunting verse, 'Rime' challenges and extends the text by utilizing repetition, transformation, and fluid identity. Performers are at once the teller and the tale, the haunt and the haunted, the ocean and the man floating lonely in it.
"Both of these stories juxtapose the apparent freedom of flight with violation, redemption, hope, and evil," says Kocz. "In 'Leda,' the Swan is the predator. In 'Rime,' the Albatross is the innocent killed. In both, these great birds leave an indelible mark on the future. The performance takes a bold approach to adaptation, exploring sound, movement, and shadow to evoke the powerful images in these stories."
Eve Crevoshay, Hannah Blevins, and SaRAH! Kocz shared the burdens of adapting, directing, choreographing, and performing Rime: Woman, Bird, and Beast.
"There were constant questions about how literal to be with the texts," says Kocz, "and what perspective to take at any given moment in the story. Are we the 'slimy things' that crawl upon the sea? Or are we the men responding to the grotesque creatures we see in the moonlight?"
Kocz says, "Given our approach of true fluid identity, we had to be careful not to suddenly cast one member or the other as the Mariner or as the Albatross in any one 'scene' and limit ourselves.
"The original text for 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' has a number of adaptation issues built into it," Kocz notes. "While working, we had to constantly ask ourselves if the text in question was serving the greater vision for the piece."
Kocz adds, "'Translation' is a better term for this work because it frees the meaning from the literal text given. We were always trying to figure out what these words, these images were in three-dimensional space, in shadow, in voice, in body. Any time you go from one medium or language to another you must deal with fidelity to the original. By allowing the text to come alive in the space and freeing ourselves from any notion of pure fidelity, I believe we are actually being truer to the writers and their words than any kind of faithful pantomime could ever hope to be."
She says, "The set is very simple, a reflective backdrop of cloth and shimmery tulle and light on water projections evoke the river in 'Leda' and the ocean in 'Rime.'"
Kocz also praised the contributions of Wordshed artistic director Matthew Spangler, who served as lighting designer for Rime. "Matt Spangler has done an incredible job of extending our shadow work with his use of light," says SaRAH! Kocz. "From the very first meetings, we knew how important shadow was to these pieces. Utilizing lighting on the floor as well as a number of spots coming straight down, our bodies and motions are instantly transformed from human to bird and back. His vision has really made our translation possible."
Kocz, who also served as sound designer for Rime, says, "I built a great deal of the sound for 'Rime.' It was a delicate balance as we have strived to use our own bodies and voices throughout the pieces to capture a moment or an environment. The Leda poems are done completely with our own bodies as instruments. With 'Rime,' there was a need to evoke a more epic scale. As with movement, repetition of certain sound motifs, such as wind chimes and heartbeats, have been used to play on the Mariner's sense of time, of guilt, of loss."
In summing up the project, Kocz quotes American poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963): "It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there."
Wordshed Productions presents Rime: Woman, Bird, and Beast Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 6-8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 9, at 2 and 6 p.m. in the Martha Nell Hardy Theater in Bingham Hall 203 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $5. 919/969-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.unc.edu/wordshed/.