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Pop Filter Hot Pick: Attack Theatre's Histoire du Soldat

Attack Theatre. Pictured: Dane Toney
Attack Theatre. Pictured: Dane Toney
Why you should go: You have just four nights to experience Attack Theatre's Histoire du Soldat, which pairs a world-premiere production with a re-worked audience favorite. Running on February 23rd, 26th and 27th, and on March 1st, Attack Theatre presents the two-part production at the George R. White Studio in the Pittsburgh Opera.

Showcasing the local company's expertise in choreographing and producing contemporary dance works, as well as its core commitment to artistic collaboration, Histoire du Soldat brings together the talents of Chatham Baroque, members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, musicians from Carnegie Mellon's School of Music, and Attack's dancers for four nights of creative collaboration. Anchoring the production's impressive roster of collaborators is Attack's artistic directors and founders Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza--who choreographed the work--and the company's Grammy-nominated composer Dave Eggar.

The two-part production, which is just under two hours in length, includes the world premiere of dance work, A Tiny Droplet of a Portrait, along with a revised presentation of Igor Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat (read: The Soldier’s Tale). The unique pairing of these two works reflects Attack Theatre's dedciation to presenting interdisciplinary works that also spotlight collaboration between art forms and genres, periods throughout history and between individual artists and larger more established arts entities.

"It is a remarkably ambitious production. We have so many collaborators, not just the dancers, including three groups of incredibly talented musicians," says Attack Theater's artistic director and founder Michele de la Reza. "One tie-in between the two works is the influence that live music has on dance--as performers and for the audience. When you perform with live music, it's never the same, and that is ephemeral and beautiful. It makes it a very present moment for the audience. It's really exciting and people have commented on the electricity,"

Electronica meets Baroque

In collaboration with Chatham Baroque, Attack's world premiere of A Tiny Droplet of a Portrait, the first portion of Histoire du Soldat, juxtaposes baroque traditions with contemporary sound and movement.

Featuring an original score composed by Eggar and a duet performed by Attack dancers Kaitlin Dann and Brent Luebbert, the innovative work showcases intricate partnering, expressive gestures and "compelling physical portraits of an emotional landscape," all accompanied by Chatham Baroque's ensemble members. Based in Pittsburgh, the trio performs 17th- and 18th-century music played on period instruments including baroque violin, viola da gamba, theorbo and baroque guitar.

Exploring the intersection of contemporary electronic dance music and classical baroque dance music, the work reveals what de la Reza calls "the intimacy beneath the formality." She adds: "It creates a dialogue between the electronic music and the baroque music. We took the baroque dance references and brought them into a more emotional and contemporary world."

The work's evocative title came about as the result of a process that involved word association and movement experiments led by de la Reza and Attack's dancers. "The notion of a portrait also informs the piece, with the focused formality and clues that are embedded in a portrait. We decided to create a little bit of an island of a performance space to imply intimacy and a bit of confinement. We created a smaller stage like a canvas onto which these portraits reside in five different movements," says de la Reza.

Back by popular demand

The evening continues with the dance company reuniting with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for Igor Stravinsky’s timeless tale of greed and temptation, The Soldier’s Tale. Composed by Stravinsky in 1918--with a libretto based on a Russian folk tale written by Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz--the universal story follows a soldier who trades his violin to the devil, in exchange for a book that he believes can predict the future of the economy. Succumbing to the Faustian bargain, the soldier exchanges his beloved instrument for wealth and fortune, ultimately sacrificing love, relationships and music. Histoire du Soldat premiered in 1918 in Lausanne, Switzerland, conducted by Ernest Ansermet.

At the heart of the work is a a story for the ages, one that has influenced everything from The Devil went Down to Georgia and Mefistofele to The Devil and Daniel Webster. Using dance, spoken text and music, the performance features Dane Toney as the soldier, Liz Chang and Michele de la Reza as the conniving devil, Ashley Williams as the chaste princess, and Peter Kope as the narrator, the character who leads the audience through the captivating tale. Reinterpreting Stravinsky’s devilish tale, the challenging work includes a significant amount of spoken text and an intense level of theatricality.

"One of the joys of the way we work, is the constant editing process. We are constantly finding new things in the work. The storytelling aspect to The Soldier’s Tale has made it fun to go back and continue to clarify what we are saying and how we are saying it."

On February 23rd, 26th and 27th, The Soldier’s Tale will feature members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, including: John Moorie (bass), Dennis O’Boyle (assistant principal second violin), Ron Samuels (clarinet), David Sogg (co-principal bassoon), Neal Berntsen (trumpet), Peter Sullivan (principal trombone), and Jeremy Branson (associate principal percussion).

On March 1st, students from Carnegie Mellon University's School of Music will perform The Soldier’s Tale with Attack Theatre, and will be conducted by Daniel Meyer, who is artistic director of Asheville Symphony and Erie Philharmonic, and a long-time Attack Theatre collaborator.
 
All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. and include a pre-show reception at 7 p.m. Purchase tickets.

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