Early in this century, Russia's western borders rippled like a ribbon in the wind. Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed--you could wake up on the wrong side of the border! Young men who found themselves on the Russian side were conscripted into the Army, only to desert at their earliest opportunity.
Folktales of the time tell about a deserter whose soul is carried off by the devil. Twentieth-century composer and innovator Igor Stravinsky drew on these tales to create the classic theatrical entertainment The Soldier's Tale (L'Histoire du Soldat), a Faustian fable.
While in exile in Switzerland a year after the Russian Revolution, Stravinsky and Swiss author Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz collaborated on a simple work that would require a small cast and portable, limited scenery. Dr. Michael Cerveris, chair of Arizona State University West's Arts and Performance Department, found it a perfect vehicle with which to bring his three children, all talented, well-seasoned professionals, to Arizona. "Two years ago we did an evening of Eric Satie in New York together, and I wanted to work with them here."
There were difficulties. Pere Cerveris had to fly to New York a number of times to rehearse with his kids in their off moments. Todd Cerveris, who appeared in the recent film One True Thing and performed this year in the Humana Festival, had just finished a play in Louisville's Actors Theater and was between gigs, so he was available. But Marisa and the younger Michael Cerveris had to get leaves from their roles on Broadway to come out and play with dad.
"It was tough getting them all together at once," says Cerveris. "Marisa's dancing in Phantom on Broadway, and she had to scramble to get loose."
Son Michael found it even harder to get time off from his one-man show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. In 1996, he won an Outer Circle Drama Critics award and was nominated for a Tony for his role as Tommy in The Who's Tommy. After playing the role in Germany for two years, he came back late last year to perform as Hedwig in the current off-Broadway hit.
Last week in an interview on Terry Gross' National Public Radio show Fresh Air, he described Hedwig as "a glam-drag-rock show that becomes much more."
After finding his replacement, he took a week off, switching from a transsexual with a botched operation to play the speaking role of a hapless soldier.
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There are other stars, too. While young Michael plays the soldier's speaking role, the show's choreographer, former Paris Opera dancer Fabrice Herrault, dances the same role. Todd has the Devil's speaking role, and David MacGillivray, of The National Ballet of Canada, dances it. Marisa, who has been featured with New York City Ballet, dances the nonspeaking role of the Princess. ASU West professor of theater/performance Rob Taylor, known for his recent highly praised production of Waiting for Godot, is the Narrator.
"I first loved this piece just for the musical values," says Cerveris, who conducts a seven-piece ensemble culled from ASU's music department for this work. "It is in Stravinsky's neoclassical style and includes jazz in a ragtime section. As one of the seminal works of its kind, it has all the hallmarks that reflect the values of our department, and it helped open the doorway to the interdisciplinary works that are being performed now." Although Cerveris says he remained faithful to the original, he's added media from local video artists to enhance the story. "Stravinsky would have used anything that had been available to him."
The Soldier's Tale is scheduled to be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, May 7; the same time Saturday, May 8; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 9, at La Sala, located in the University Center building on the ASU West campus, 4701 West Thunderbird. Prior to the evening shows--at 7:30 p.m.--Dr. Cerveris will show films of other versions of the Faust tale. Tickets are $15, $10 for seniors, $8 for students. 480-503-5555 (Dillard's), 602-543-2787 (ASU West).