Balancing Act

What better way to stoke Swarthmore’s Spring Arts Celebration than staging one of the most complex and colorful productions in recent College history?

“The number of creative talents involved, the different departments represented, and the scale of what we’re trying to do make it really quite exciting,” Andrew Hauze ’04, lecturer of music, says of Stravinsky’s “Soldier” and Other Tales.

The production, scheduled for Sat., April 2, in Lang Concert Hall, bursts with collaboration. It taps the talents of the departments of theater and music and dance, the professional musicians of Orchestra 2001, and an alumnus composer.

Among the students participating are actors, dancers, two composers, a costume designer, a stage manager, a digital projectionist, and one very busy director and choreographer.

“It’s a huge time commitment, with marathon rehearsals, but so rewarding because of the passion everyone is bringing into the show,” says Eileen Hou ’16, a dance and theater special major from Taipei, Taiwan, who manages all of the acting scene work and dance pieces as her senior project.  

Orchestra 2001 approached the Department of Music and Dance about such a production last year, affirming the tradition of the ensemble in residence of giving students the opportunity to sit alongside professional players, and it asked Hauze to conduct.

Stravinsky’s masterpiece from 1918, Histoire du soldat (Story of a Soldier), anchors the program. It's based on a Russian folktale about a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil for wealth, but the Swarthmore production balances that gravity with levity.

Eileen Hou '16

Dance and theater special major from Taipei, Eileen Hou '16 manages all the acting scene work and dance pieces as her senior project.

“There’s a real playfulness in how we staged and choreographed it,” says Hou, promising some crowd-pleasing surprises.

Stravinsky’s tale calls for one or two dances, but Hou expanded the concept to groups of dancers for the devil and the soldier. The production stays true to Stravinsky’s use of a septet, however, across the palette of orchestral sound.

“Including a fairly unusual pairing of a violin and double bass,” says Hauze, “a bold but unique choice that gives a totally fresh color to this ensemble.”

Hauze invited Nathan Scalise ’16, an economics and music major from Brewster, Mass., and Zachary Tanner ’16, a history major and music minor from Chicago, Ill., to write short pieces for the ensemble — an experiment to see what would come to them creatively in response to such unconventional instrumentation, he says.

He also reached out to a former student, composer Jeremy Rapaport-Stein ’14, who provided a piece called “Prisoners” in response to a series of unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo.

“Since the originals were chiseled out of large pieces of stone,” says Rapaport-Stein, “my piece includes lots of ‘chiseled’ lines and melodies that contrast with big blocks of harmony, analogous to the ways in which Michelangelo’s figures emerge from their rocks.”

“It’s a quite challenging piece, fast and furious, virtuosic and quite demanding of the players — and of the conductor,” says Hauze, laughing. “Jeremy may be taking subtle revenge on what I put him through as a student.”

The production also offers a curtain-raiser called “The Soldier Dances,” a new amalgamation of dances popularized more than 100 years ago by the African-American composer James Reese Europe. Arranged by Hauze, it blends tango, waltz, and ragtime.

All told, the production crackles with creative energy. Speaking two weeks prior to debut, Hou says she will miss its vitality.

“You never really know what you’re going to see,” she says. “Then there are the ideas that I had early on, and the excitement of seeing them come to life.”

She also appreciates the creative freedom afforded to her by Hauze, Stephen Lang Professor of the Performing Arts and Chair of The Department of Theater Allen Kuharski, and Director of the Dance Program Sharon Friedler.

“They were super open-minded about me having ideas that were not conventional,” she says. “We ended up interpreting the show from a different perspective, taking things up to a larger and grander scale.”

Adds Hauze: “When I go into a rehearsal and see what the actors and dancers have put together, I’m amazed,” he says. “When I imagine it with all of the costumes and projection and the lighting and professional musicians, I know it will really be something very special.”

Stravinksy’s “Soldier” and Other Tales will be performed on Saturday, April 2, at 8 p.m. in Lang Concert Hall. The event is free and open to the public.