Salome packs powerful punch for title character
Acclaimed poet and composer contemporize a flawed classic
There is a Wilde connection in the story of how acclaimed poet Adeena Karasick and Grammy Awardwinning composer Frank London met. Both New York City-based artists, the firebrand wordsmith and the trumpeter/composer had issues with Oscar Wilde’s 1891 tragedy Salome.
Misogynistic, anti-Semitic and loaded with additional messy subtexts, the play had become something of a juggernaut over the decades, with film and stage adaptations aplenty. Its title character — the daughter of King Herod and Herodias — is a Biblical biggie, whose name had often become synonymous with “deadly female cunning.”
Any time that becomes your tag line, it’s probably time for reappraisal. The spoken word opera Salome: Woman of Valor aims to do just that.
“Frank heard me perform and called me up to be the poetry coordinator of the KlezKanada website, which he was artistic director of for five years,” said Karasick.
“From that, we discussed collaborating and came upon the idea of working on Salome because we both really felt that she had been hard done by history as a powerful Jewish presence. I wrote the text, he would go create music for that poem/piece and it grew into this beautiful, incredibly passionate, twisted dark love story that re-inserts Salome into history as something other than a victim.”
Salome: Woman of Valor serves up the story of the lead character on a different platter than the version most have come to know. Which, as London and Karasick both note, is actually the Wilde and not the Biblical version.
There are some pretty massive differences and the duo decided it was time for a creative, expansive revision.
Here is a tale with its share of various intense transgressions, but with underlying female empowerment and a refreshing new take.
Incorporating Karasick’s intense poetic delivery, London’s compositions and live dance, their Salome: Woman of Valor will have its premiere March 8-10 at the 2018 Chutzpah! festival as one of this year’s highlights.
“These big projects that I do percolate for a long time and when they won’t go away, they have to be achieved,” said London.
“The interest in Salome came when Jenny London showed me the 1923 Charles Bryant silent film version of the story, which has become a total cult classic in queer culture because not only was everyone who worked on it gay, but it’s so completely over the top and campy.
“That started the juices flowing and I was also interested in creating a new dance piece, so the story of Salome is all about dance, obsession and the consequences of both.”
Both London and Karasick were bothered by the way the story was told, however; Wilde was to blame.
“She is just this pouty, spoiled character and there should be a different take on her,” said London. “And I knew Adeena with her academic pursuits would tell the story differently.”
“It’s this incredibly passionate, messed up and obsessive love story that has been reassessed,” said Karasick. “Now she can be seen as powerful and seen as something other than a weak, mistreated victim.”
With Karasick’s powerful poetry and script, original live music performed by London with Indian percussionist Deep Singh and Middle Eastern keyboard player Shai Bachar and choreographed and performed by New Yorkbased dancers Rebecca Margolick and Jessie Zaritt, the show also includes video by Elizabeth Mak, which recreates moments from Bryant’s 1923 film. Alex Aron (cocreator of A Night in the Old Marketplace) directs and the performance is presented in association with The Dance Centre.
“It’s enabled us to play to each of our specialties with my focus on text incorporated into the language and screen with playful avantgarde techniques,” said Karasick. “Then there is Frank’s brilliant music and all the other contributors to make something that has many parts and is on its way to being a really exciting experience. I’m not usually a team player, so it has been a really exciting learning curve to collaborate on something of this scope.”
Both the lead creators say they can’t imagine a life outside of Salome at the moment and are looking forward to it being presented. Karasick went to see The Greatest Showman and thought, “Salome needs trapeze, I think.
“So I’m certainly looking to have it premiere and go on tour,” she said.
“The text has already been published and toured and translated and I toured that book all over Europe. The libretto just was published and will be available for pur- chase at the show for anyone who wants to follow along.”