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From the Archives – “The Soldier’s Tale”

April 30, 2020

Urged on by Jerry Bidlack, Professor of Music at Lehigh University, we decided to stage Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, circa 1984, and asked Ronlin Foreman to design, choreograph and direct. What a bear it was getting up this show, particularly for Ronlin who was sewing costumes and prepping props even after we’d opened. (I remember Ronlin crawling back behind the curtain to hand me a piece for my costume literally seconds before I entered as that character, whispering: “Wear this!”) We rehearsed at Lehigh as this was a “sabbatical project” Jerry had masterminded. He conducted. (The music in this touring version, video documented at Dance Theatre Workshop in New York, is recorded.) Jerry’s no longer with us that I might consult him about the details of the original production, but it was such a delight to work with him and the seven-person orchestra in Lamberton Hall. Live music is untouchably magical.

L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) is a theatrical work “to be read, played, and danced” by three actors and one or several dancers, accompanied by a septet of instruments. Conceived by Igor Stravinsky and Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz, the piece was based on a Russian folk tale drawn from the collection of Alexander Afanasyev called The Runaway Soldier and the Devil.

For us, it was again a chance to brush up against a terrific piece of work that spoke to us, stretched us technically, as would Shipwrecked, and was a good fit for our small ensemble. Mark McKenna plays the Soldier; Jennie Gilrain, Susan Chase and Bill George, the Chorus. You can see how the movement skills of the company are growing; the pantomime, the simple design elements that still stay with us from our “street” roots yet now speak with dignity and flare in a concert setting. Ronlin’s work was brilliant, and we did our best to execute. Ronlin was always so unorthodox, anti-authoritarian. I remember he wanted to take Stravinsky’s opening musical sequence and put it at the end—not such a radical thought for a theatre person, but for Jerry, accustomed to the sacredness of the composer’s work, impossible!

– Bill George

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