String Quartet #13
Music performed by:
Penderecki String Quartet: Jeremy Bell, Jerzy Kaplanek, Christine Vlajk, Simon Fryer
April 1, 2005, Dancetheatre David Earle
Co-operators Hall, River Run Centre, Guelph
Dancers -- Michael English, Evadne Fulton, Barbara Pallomina, Graham McKelvie; The Poet -- Suzette Sherman; Her Muse -- Danielle Baskerville
Full title is The Heart at Night, A Requiem for Anna Akhmatova.
To the heroism of the poet who continues to speak the truth in times of cultural control.
When I began this work, I did not have a program in mind, that is, it wasn't about anything beyond a physical and emotional response to the Shostakovich quartet. I began by making the walking patterns. After reading Shostakovich and Stalin by Solomon Volkov, to learn more about the Life that produced this extraordinary composition, I was inspired by the great courage of Dimitri Shostakovich in the face of alternating encouragement and public humiliation, and even worse, the threat of death not only to him but to those he loved. (It is difficult in these times when the artist is so marginalized, to imagine that half a century ago in Russia artists' powers of influence were so feared by their government.)
Returning to the studio, to the work at hand, I came to the moment of introducing a solo figure. This work is part of a larger project in which I hope to create new works for the dancers who have influenced and embodied my ongoing quest in this art form. Suzette Sherman and I have offered each other inspiration for some twenty-five years. Initially I found it very difficult to find the role that she could play amongst these people who walk the streets with no destination and who are constantly threatened by unseen danger. She could be, except for gender, the composer himself, who constantly produced music in which his true feelings were concealed, risking everything. But then I thought of Anna Akhmatova, another hero of that time. In her youth she was dark and slender, not unlike Suzette. I don't believe in one human being actually representing another … so Suzette is not Anna Akhmatova, she is the poet in an arena of control and persecution. Akhmatova became the spokesperson for the Russian people. Her most famous work is entitled Poem Without a Hero.
When I first went to Russia with Bill Coleman, as rehearsal director for his magnificent work Convoy PQ-17, on the very first morning I went to see the little apartment in which Akhmatova lived and wrote. It is in the servants' quarters of a vast baroque palace and has become a museum. Seeing her photographs, her pens and papers, her desk and chair were moving enough, but hearing her poetry declaimed in the next room to a group of Russian tourists brought me to tears. Her life was fraught with challenges and tragedies. Her former husband, the poet Nikolai Guliev, was executed on Stalin's orders, her dear friend and fellow poet Osip Mandelstam died in a prison camp, and her son Lev was constantly arrested and imprisoned. The great poets Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sergei Essenin and Marina Tsvetaeva took their own lives, but Akhmatova and Pasternak survived. I have added a layer of imagery over a piece of music that has no need of it. It will still be played, hopefully for centuries, without my interpretation in dance. I have responded as the music dictated to me, after listening to it for months. It is a very rich creation, full of darkness and light. In one of my many books on Anna Akhmatova I read that during the siege of Leningrad she was evacuated by plane “clutching the score of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony”. Choreographing this quartet was suggested to me by Jeremy Bell. I'm very grateful for his constant support and to all of the Penderecki Quartet for their courage in embarking on so risky a project, this foray into the unknown, with their formidable artistry and generous spirit.