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Tucson Weekly House Of Glass

The Avant Garde Dance/Opera Les Enfants Terribles Comes To Tucson -- With Composer Philip Glass Himself As A Performer

By Margaret Regan

OCTOBER 20, 1997:  ANNA KISSELGOFF, THE influential, hard-to-please dance critic for The New York Times, was not restrained when she reviewed Les Enfants Terribles after its American premiere in Brooklyn last year.

"I have seen the future of dance opera, and it works," she pronounced.

The "dance-opera spectacle," the creation of composer Philip Glass and choreographer Susan Marshall, will come to Centennial Hall this Tuesday, October 21, as part of the UApresents Street Noise series. Glass himself will be one of a trio of musicians playing the electronic keyboards during the performance. On stage re-enacting the strange story of Jean Cocteau's 1929 novel will be seven dancers and four vocalists, who will sing a French libretto written by Glass. (Surtitles are provided.) Marshall, a leading modern-dance choreographer, doesn't perform herself, though she directed the entire work.

Marshall, on tour with the company, was not available for an interview, but she faxed some statements explaining how the final piece meshes the disparate forms of dance, song and spoken word.

"What I ended up doing is casting dancers to parallel the singers in three of the four roles," Marshall wrote. "For example, the two central figures are Paul, the brother, and Lise, the sister. Here I actually triple-cast them. So there are four people, one singer and three dancers, representing each character."

To make things even more complicated, two other characters, Dargelos, the villain, and Agathe, Paul's love interest, are portrayed by a single singer and dancer. Only the narrator, Gérard, is played by a single artist, the singer Hal Cazalet. (The 14 performers in the touring company that will play Tucson are with just one exception the same people who won the rave reviews in New York.) A videotape of a rehearsal shows that when the singers sing, their corresponding dancers enact their characters' feelings through Marshall's typically athletic movement. And the singers in turn use their bodies as moving instruments far more often than is usually the case in opera. Glass himself, in a program statement, puts the collaboration this way: "The music is performed by three pianos, four singers and seven dancers who alternately and, at times, together portray the action."

Les Enfants Terribles literally translates as "the terrible children," but the typical English translation is given as "Children of the Game." Cocteau, who died in 1963, was a leading author of the French avant-garde through much of the 20th century; besides novels, he wrote poetry, theatrical plays, screenplays and ballet plots. His 1929 novel Les Enfants Terribles, the 1952 Jean-Pierre Melville film of the same name, made with Cocteau's oversight, and now the dance-opera all tell the disturbing tale of a complex relationship between a brother and sister. There are hints of incest in the "games" they play, and a tragedy unfolds after Paul falls in love with another woman.

This work marks the third time the writings of the French author have inspired Glass, an important American avant-garde composer responsible for such groundbreaking works as the opera Einstein on the Beach. In fact, the dance-opera is the last of what he thinks of as a Cocteau trilogy. Glass used Cocteau's 1925 play Orphée as the basis for a straightforward dramatic opera of the same name. For the second entry, La Belle et La Bete, Glass composed new music for Cocteau's movie of the same name (translated as "Beauty and the Beast"), and used live singers to accompany screenings of the film.

For the final piece of the trilogy, Glass turned to dance, in hopes of "re-vision(ing) the novel as an opera/ballet in which singers and dancers would share the stage." Marshall, a prize-winning choreographer whose eponymous troupe Susan Marshall & Company has performed throughout the U.S., in Europe and in Japan, attracted Glass' attention after she composed a number of dance works around his music. Both artists, as Kisselgoff notes, are "primarily concerned with structures and patterns." Glass approached Marshall about the project and the two "had a chance to talk quite a bit at first, with the groundwork for the discussion coming from Cocteau's work," Marshall wrote. "But then Philip went ahead and composed the music. So in the end it was a combination of a creative process early on, and then being presented with an almost fully finished musical work."

The movements Marshall created for her dancers--and for the singers--are meshed into a stage spectacle that includes huge, billowing, white cloths and fantastic snowstorms. Her goal, she said, was "to bring the story to life without trying to choreograph the actions told by the text in a literal fashion. If I were to attempt that, I feel that the dance would be robbed of all its power and mystery."

Les Enfants Terribles will be performed at UA Centennial Hall, University Boulevard east of Park Avenue, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 21. Tucson Citizen music writer Daniel Buckley will give a free pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m. in Room 101 of the Douglass Building, just east of Centennial Hall. Tickets for the performance are $18, $23 and $29. Students with ID and children under 18 get in for half-price. Tickets are available at the box office at 621-3341, or at Dillard's at 1-800-638-4253.

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