GroundWorks DanceTheater artistic director David Shimotakahara speaks with pride of the range his dance company can embrace. This weekend they collaborate with the Cleveland Orchestra in A Soldier's Tale as part of the Cleveland Play House's FusionFest.
Composed by Stravinsky in 1918, A Soldier's Tale is a spoken-word opera whose original libretto by Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz was about a soldier who loses his soul by trading his violin to the devil.
Cleveland audiences will see the 1993 version featuring a Kurt Vonnegut libretto that updates the story to WWII using the true story of soldier Eddie Slovik, an American soldier executed for desertion. Shimotakahara says his choreographing process for A Soldier's Tale was different from his usual way of working with music created specifically for his dances.
"It's been awhile since I worked with a score," he says. "The complexity of this music is very interesting and challenging." He says he had to bring "Stravinsky's music alive in this Vonnegut way" — abrupt and cynical.
"The world of the play demands that the movement express some of what [Vonnegut] saw as the chaotic and crazy environment that war puts us in — a state of mind as well as a physical place," says Shimotakahara.
The cast of five dancers frames the action of the play, operating like a Greek chorus by commenting, through movement, on the action. They expand on themes and act out the thoughts of the characters — the General, the Nurse, the Soldier, and the M.P.
Also on the program is Catch and Release, a companion piece to A Soldier's Tale written in 2006 by Finnish composer and former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen. Salonen wrote the work to use the same instrumentation as A Soldier's Tale: clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, percussion, violin and double bass. Shimotakahara says that this will be a rare opportunity for this music to be heard and played at such a high level of artistic excellence by eight Cleveland Orchestra musicians.
"The score is so dynamic," says Shimotakahara. "It has such movement. It's what initially attracted me." He considers it a "great fit for dance." (This will be the first time it will be seen with dance).
Video artist and Cleveland Institute of Arts professor Kasumi has created a video that will be projected from above, filling the entire stage. Lighting by Dennis Dugan will complement the video. "The dancers will be swimming in that environment for the whole piece," says Shimotakahara.