Once Wild

…is a play by Word Dance Theater this weekend, May 3 – May 5.  I was privileged to attend a rehearsal a few days ago.  This turned out to be fortuitous as I was immediately impressed by the inventive narrative of the revolutionary Russia in the early 1920s.  Outstanding choreography, live piano, Russian folk music and poetry create a long-lasting impression.

The central story is of an American-born originator of a new dance form – Isadora Duncan, told through her adopted daughter and student, Irma (shared by actress Kimberly Schraf and dancer Ingrid Zimmer).  Cynthia Word’s Isadora is in the photo below (courtesy of Word Dance Theater).WDT_OW_Passage1  So graceful, as if a live twin of Nike of Samothrace :-)

Isadora was not the first Westerner to travel to Soviet Russia hoping to find a better world.  One well-known example before her was John Reed, who produced an account of the Bolshevik revolution in Ten Days That Shook the World.  Within Russia, young intellectuals also hungrily rushed to embrace the revolution, only to become deeply disillusioned in the end.  Much of that talent met a tragic end.  Poet Sergei Esenin (played by Philip Fletcher), whose life became connected to Isadora’s for several short, or so it seems, years, was no exception.  Esenin together with Anatoli Marienhof and Vadim Shershenevich founded imaginist (derivative from “image”) circle, a new literary movement.  Their stories were told through images evoked by certain words and expressions.  Sometimes it meant combining words in an unusual way.  The group believed that, over time, words were tagged with extra meanings, so they set out to unearth the original.  Marienhof’s Novel without a Lie is a wonderful read and the most truthful portrait of Esenin.

IMG_3117To majority of Russians Esenin is still the ‘most Russian’ poet.  However, he will probably remain little understood outside his language culture because the work of an imaginist can hardly be translated close to the original.  Through my own struggle to find or even work on translations of some of my favourite poems (beyond imaginist circle too, but including Esenin’s contemporaries – Alexander Blok, Aleksander Mayakovsky), I realized that even if all the words are carefully interpreted and cultural references explained, the images and emotions produced in a mind of non-native Russian speaker would be different from the ones produced in a mind of a Russian.  Not wrong, just different.  The power of combining metaphors, allegories, even array of sounds that individual words produce together is weakened.  So then another interesting question arises: Can we ever fully appreciate something expressed in a foreign language in a foreign cultural environment?  This issue is similar to an economic one of inarticulate, tacit, knowledge, which is the knowledge of a particular time and place, learnt only by doing, and which cannot be taught to someone who has no experience of these circumstances.  And this is why the multi-disciplinary works of art like Once Wild deserve special attention.  When several forms of art come together to ‘embed’ the viewer in a volatile 1920s’ Soviet Russia and follow the lives of two extraordinary individuals, I think it greatly enhances our experience.

Philip Fletcher, who plays Sergei Esenin, never fails in any role, it seems.  Esenin-types, who awe us with talent and who we can adore and hate at the same time, are especially difficult to portray, but rewarding when done right.  Very moving and real person emerges as a result of Philip’s extraordinary effort, and that is Philip’s acting signature.


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