Local Artists Rework Igor Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale”

Igor Stravinsky in 1921, three years after he wrote The Soldier's Tale.(Photo: Robert Regassi)
Igor Stravinsky in 1921, three years after he wrote The Soldier's Tale.(Photo: Robert Regassi)

What would you do if someone offered you a book containing all the information you would ever need about your economic future? Would you take the deal? Now, would you still take the deal if, in order to get that information, you had to hand over your soul to the devil?

This Faustian dilemma is the story behind Igor Stravinsky’s modern masterpiece of music, dance and drama, A Soldier’s Tale.

Local musicians, dancers and narrators will present a newly choreographed version of A Soldier’s Tale this Sunday, May 1, at 3 p.m. in a performance in the Columbus Foundation’s Davis Hall.

Watch: a preview from WOSU’s ArtZine.

Set to Stravinsky’s score, the performance is a result of collaboration between the nonprofit recital series Sunday at Central and features Columbus Symphony musicians and The Ohio State University Department of Dance.

The event is funded by the Johnstone Fund for New Music, with additional support from the Columbus Foundation, Sunday at Central and The Ohio State University. Tickets and parking are free, and audience members are invited to meet the musicians in a post-concert reception.

“A Parable For Our Times”

The performers in Sunday’s production say the time is ripe for a new staged production of A Soldier’s Tale.

Sebastian Knowles, a professor of English and associate dean at Ohio State University, will voice the role of the devil in Sunday’s performance.

He says A Soldier’s Tale speaks as much to people struggling in today’s uncertain economy as it did to the people of the period between the First and Second World Wars, when Stravinsky wrote the work.

“If the Soldier’s Tale is about anything, it’s about absence, it’s about loss, regret, and the need to turn away from materiality,” Knowles said. “Stravinsky had nothing (in 1918, when he composed A Soldier’s Tale), and at a time when worlds were fighting for land, for blood, for treasure, for all kinds of things. We know this world today, it exists now, and so it becomes very much a parable for our times.”

Conductor Olev Viro says Stravinsky’s music for A Soldier’s Tale also has kept the work fresh for our times, nearly a century after its composition.

“It’ a very modernistic score, it’s very virtuosic,” Viro said. ”Stravinsky uses sort of the extremes of instrumentation and in a very small group, only seven musicians. But, he’s able to create a lot of color through the differences between those instruments. It’s just so skillfully composed, I think that’s how it keeps its interest and its newness.”

New Choreography

And as if Stravinsky’s modernistic score weren’t “new” enough, brand-new choreography by Ohio State University graduate student Erik Abbot-Main will take choreographed productions of A Soldier’s Tale — rare in any event and usually grounded in the movements of classical ballet — in a decidedly modern direction.

“I’m using a more contemporary movement language, so the dancers are flying a bit more through space,” Abbot-Main said. ”What’s new to this productions is we’re trying to blend the walls between dancer, actors and musicians. Even though they’re operating separately, they’re still conversing with each other, as it were, through the music. And so the story dictates the scenes, the movement is very wedded to the musical score.”

And the performers are marrying the music, dance and text they will perform with the unique space of Davis Hall, at the Columbus Foundation. Violinist David Niwa, who as artistic director of Sunday at Central helped coordinate the concert, says performances in Davis Hall are rare, but that the space is ideal for Stravinsky’s chamber ballet-theater work.

“This is a not a performance space per se. It works perfectly for what we’re doing, and it was a chance for the Columbus Foundation to open their doors to do something different. And this is very rare. I know it’s never happened before.”

Comments