By Barbara M
The music takes pride of place in this “Music/Dance Chamber Theater Piece”, which is as it should be. Stravinsky’s score references a dizzying diversity of sounds: contemporary, even modern, classical; jazz; folk; and something close to rhythm and blues. The musicians do it all justice, rising to the challenge of making it all appear an effortless natural progression. Each of the ensemble shines at different moments. The V.I.P. Violin at the center of the story; the Trumpet calling out the highlights; the wry commentary of the Clarinet, Bassoon, and Trombone; the steadying influence of the Bass; and the alternately militant and provocative beating heart of the Percussion.
Dance is the second element, though hardly secondary or an afterthought. There is a pleasing pantomime/Punch & Judy quality to the dance that captures the charm, humor, pathos, and undercurrent of danger in the story and the music. Messrs. Martinez and Oaks were very nimble antagonists, conveying everything from plodding fatigue to energetic buoyancy and harsh conflict. And, of course, that wry, sly humor permeating both story and music. We saw much too little of Ms. Chew, the elegant little princess who managed to go from dainty, fragile invalid to passionate lover to feisty comrade-in-arms in a single drumbeat.
But all this, including the simple, effective staging (one can hardly call it scenery, it’s so minimal) and the equally simple costumes and makeup (even the musicians get their touch of colour) – all this serves the true center, the framework the heart of the evening: the story. This is, after all, The Soldier’s Tale. Everything contributes to its telling – music, dance, and most especially Mr. Conroy, the excellent narrator. Less flamboyant than dancers or musicians, but no less skillful at capturing and keeping our attention throughout the telling of the tale, right to its bitter end.
The program notes refer to “the sinister fun of the score” which is an apt description. From beginning to end, the Devil is indeed in all of the well-executed details.