The Soldier’s Tale is a remarkable integration of music, drama and dance. To ensure that all three work in complete harmony is a demanding task, but all demands were met in this seamless production, brilliantly staged by director Jennifer Flower against a superb setting designed by Bill Haycock and artfully manipulated by Matt Scott’s lighting.
While this Tale takes slightly less than an hour to tell, the intensity with which it was performed must have been draining for its cluster of stars. But the effort they put into it was met by the recognition it deserved, from an audience that was clearly moved by the power and vigour with which Narrator/Devil Eugene Gilfedder and Dancer Justin Rutzou each performed in and outside their squares. The Dancer and the Actor crisscrossed between their roles as both were called upon to express themselves through voice and body. And the orchestra of musicians from Making Waves, under musical director Peter Luff came as close to narration as instruments can.
Igor Stravinsky’s music for the Tale is moody rather than melodic, and the mood is dark and elegiac. In a scene set with surreal echoes of wartime devastation, a Russian folk story with Faustian undertones is played out in a series of scenarios where the dance, the drama and the music rotated in the limelight. The importance of the text of the Tale makes it somewhat surprising that Stravinsky’s collaborator in this work, the French-Swiss poet/novelist Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, gets minimal acknowledgment for his contribution, which is buried in the program’s background notes.
In its original form, this work was intended to be performed by three actors, a dancer and seven instruments. In this production, Eugene Gilfedder (who is never shy of hard work) took on all three acting roles, compressed into a Narrator and the Devil. While Gilfedder gave a fine performance, with a mix of gravitas and intensity tempered by lighter moments (such as the particularly convincing tone he assumed when narrating the segment about the sweetly manipulative Princess), the division between the two roles was sometimes blurred, making the story line a bit difficult to follow. Any minor confusion can be avoided, however, by reading the synopsis of the Tale, provided in the program.
What Justin Rutzou can do to make his body talk is mesmerising. He becomes the violin that is played. His slow march is a perfectly controlled sequence of microcosmic movements. The pain of his realised losses is palpable. And both he and Gilfedder are perfectly in tune with the orchestra. The orchestra, in its turn, shifted smoothly from a supporting role that complemented without competing, to centre stage (metaphorically speaking). The original instrumentation for which the music was composed was played by violinist Michele Walsh, David Montgomery (percussion), Paul Rawson (cornet), Greg Aitken (trombone), Leesa Dean (bassoon), Marion Heckenberg (double bass) and Floyd Williams (clarinet). Together, they gave a vigorous interpretation of what has been described as Stravinsky in jazz mode.
From the time the audience enters and is confronted by the brooding presence of motionless players on the darkened stage, to the wrenching finale, The Soldier’s Tale provides an engrossing and unique theatrical experience.
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