Penelope Freeh

Saints and Sinners

Posted by on Feb 10 2016, in Uncategorized

Many things are afoot. I am teaching a whole bunch and to such a lovely variety of folks. I finally made inroads with my beginning Modern class at the U of MN yesterday, a moment of my bonding with the group as well as their connecting to one another. I see sweet friendships forming there, especially among the four young men, and I am pleased that my class can facilitate that.


Then today in Intermediate Ballet, which I treat as advanced, I found myself saying the words, “I am tracking your talent, and you can do better than this.” It was a good way to say what I meant, that they should to be doing their best in class, even at the ungodly hour of 8:25am. My combinations are doled out based on their highest abilities, which are high. It’s time for them to know that I’m on to them, and yup, they can do better. And they did! They made my heart sing this morning.


Dido and Aeneas came off without a hitch last weekend and was, in fact, great. I loved the intimate context, the sharing of the stage with the instrumentalists and singers. My role, in and out as it was, felt appropriate and even essential. It’s been fun to see the photos that David’s wife Bree took. A former dancer and now photographer, her eye is keen and she captured many good and dramatic moments. The back of the performing space had the option to expose floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the street. David opted for that and to great effect. My favorite photo captures three green-lighted windows from across the street serving as our backdrop, very Edward Hopper. Super cool.


Now my focus turns more heavily upon Four Saints in Three Acts, an opera by Virgil Thomson with a libretto by Gertrude Stein. The language is magnificent and impenetrable. I fall in love with this piece now too, with the many musical passages that end far too soon for my taste but are so in keeping with Stein’s work.


This production is with the great Vocal Essence in conjunction with Black Label Movement, Carl Flink’s dance group known for its extremely high level of athleticism. Carl has brought me in to assist choreographically. Also, as it turns out, I will be in it. It’s a lovely thing, to be dancing. Not quite sure how I found myself here, being that Carl and I have never worked together before. The reason is probably my experience working with non-dancing singers in a variety of contexts. No matter, I will stake my claim.


We had a big, messy rehearsal last night, the 30 singers and us eight movers. It was glorious in that the talent in the room just about blew the roof off. But oh, we have miles to go. The score is SO hard for the singers to memorize, it being so nonsensical and a-rhythmic. But it’ll be worth it. I keep trying to articulate what is valuable about this reconstruction. It hasn’t quite hit me yet, but somehow it feels important, an imperative for saints and sinners.


My favorite device is that Saint Teresa is played by two singers. I’m sure this is more a musical practicality in terms of one singer being soprano and the other contralto, but I prefer to think about the psychology behind that choice, that she is a self so enormous that she can only be expressed by two bodies, two souls.


I used this device in 2004 when I made Telephone Joan, about Joan of Arc. Three of us represented her: the maiden, the warrior, and the saint. I was the warrior of course, what with my shorn hair at the time. It felt appropriate; I was disguised already.


In thinking about this now I do still love the gimmick, but I also rail against the notion. Why can’t one person/body contain/portray all their facets? Life is sharp and complicated, and it undermines our capacity as humans to represent as one- dimensional characters. Characters are complex. They are characters. One definition says “strength and originality”. I love that.


So, two bodies for one Saint Teresa. In broad terms they represent the ethereal and the earthy. Again, I regret that both can’t be in the same form because of course, that’s what we are, individuals composed of many parts, contrasting and even opposite, that define us and bring us to where we stand now.