"And this production proves that La MaMa, almost 47 years after Ellen Stewart founded it, is still taking creative chances."
- Anita Gates, New York Times
"The dazzling adaptation proves that some stories are universal, able to cross cultural, geographical, and time boundaries."
- Amy Freeman, offoffonline.com
"This is, first and foremost, a celebration of the possibilities of theatre"
- Martin Denton, nytheatre.com
Adapted, composed, and directed by the legendary Ellen Stewart, THE RAVEN tells the story of King Milo who shoots a raven during a hunting expedition, then is placed under a horrific curse by the bird's owner. To be delivered from that curse he must find a woman who possesses special qualities.
Ellen Stewart has set Carlo Gozzi's tale of enchantment in China, transforming the work into a poetic new musical that blends the Venetian author's timeless fairytale with new elements inspired by the theatrical aesthetics of China: an original score composed by Ellen Stewart and Michael Sirotta, Heather Paawe, Yukio Tsuji and Cao Bao An, performed in Mandarin and English; text translation by Juliana Lau and Lu Yu; choreography by Lu Yu, Ying Tang, Juliana Lau, Rob Laqui and Sinan Kajtazi; lighting design by Filippo de Capitani; video projections by Jeffrey Issac, Jan Klug, and Andrea Paciotto; puppets by Federico Restrepo; masks by Gretchen Green; traditional costumes from Shanghai, coordinated by Lu Yu and Ellen Stewart.
This adaptation of THE RAVEN represents a continuation of La MaMa E.T.C. and The Great Jones Company's tradition of contemporary interpretations and adaptations of the classics. The production will retain the inimitable international flavor that is a trademark of Ellen Stewart's body of work at La MaMa, with a multi-ethnic cast consisting of over 25 artists from Colombia, Italy, Japan, Germany, China, Korea, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Republic of Congo, Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States.
One of Venice's leading 18th-century writers, Carlo Gozzi (1720- 1806) is best known for his satirical fairytales, written originally for commedia dell'arte troupe whose initial productions emphasized the works' fantasy, magic, and special effects. His most famous works include TURANDOT and THE LOVE OF THREE ORANGES, which have been adapted respectively into often-performed operas by Giacomo Puccini and Sergei Prokofiev. Contemporary artists, most notably Ellen Stewart, Andrei Serban and Julie Taymor, recently have found inspiration in Gozzi's lesser-known stories, such as THE RAVEN, THE SERPENT WOMAN, and THE GREEN BIRD, respectively.
King Milo by Sinan Kajtazi & Armilla by Allison Hiroto
Photo by Richard Greene
Ellen Stewart's reinterpretation of Gozzi's THE RAVEN is a tribute to the pioneering spirit of such local Asian-American troupes as Pan Asian Repertory and H.T. Chen & Dancers which had their beginnings in Chinatown La MaMa during the 1970s when artistic opportunities for Asian-Americans in New York City were very limited.
For more than four decades, Ellen Stewart has presented numerous adaptations of classics at La MaMa. In recent years, she and the Great Jones Repertory Company have presented an original adaptation based on William Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET and a world-premiere adaptation of the rarely staged Greek saga HERAKLES VIA PHAEDRA which The New York Times called "theater restored to its ritual communal origins." In 2004, La MaMa E.T.C. presented SEVEN -- a month-long festival including the world-premiere of Ms. Stewart's ANTIGONE, performed in repertory with revivals of six productions previously staged by Great Jones Repertory Company. In her New York Times review of ANTIGONE, Margo Jefferson proclaimed: "Ms. Stewart is one of Off-Broadway's great pioneers. And La MaMa is one of the few institutions that unfailingly welcomes theater that is experimental and international."
This production is suitable for families and children of all ages.
Poster and postcard design by Luba Lukova
A Plague on Their House Brought On by a Black Bird
by Anita Gates, New York Times
All the characters in “The Raven” wear traditional Chinese costumes. All the characters in “The Raven” have Italian names.
That seems odd at first, but there’s a good reason. And this production proves that La MaMa, almost 47 years after Ellen Stewart founded it, is still taking creative chances.
“The Raven” began as an 18th-century fairy tale by Carlo Gozzi, who also wrote the original commedia dell’arte “Turandot.” Ms. Stewart, who adapted, composed and directed this musical version (with additional music by others), decided to relocate the story to China because, she has said, she just had a feeling about it.
The production is graceful and inventive but can’t be judged as traditional theater, only as a combination of operatic music, dance, puppetry and video. I had some trouble keeping track of the plot, although the show is sung in both English and Mandarin. There’s a synopsis in the program, but it gets a little complicated.
The story is about curses. King Millo (Sinan Kajtazi) kills a raven, and its owner puts a curse on him. The curse can be lifted only if Millo marries a woman with white skin, red lips and raven-black hair. (In China, probably not a tough assignment.) Such a woman, Princess Armilla (Allison Hiroto), is found.
Just as things are looking up, Prince Jennaro (Rob Laqui), the king’s brother, discovers that the horse and the falcon he has just bought are cursed, too. There’s no easy solution. If he gives them to the king, a horrible thing will happen; if he doesn’t, a different horrible thing will happen; if Millo marries Armilla, yet another horrible fate lies in store.
These possible outcomes are death (in general), death (being eaten by a dragon) and death (turning into a marble statue). King Norando (Michael Lynch), Armilla’s father, got them into this trouble, so maybe he can get them out. Self-sacrifice is the theme.
The puppets are grand and dramatic, and the show looks lovely — especially the costumes, in rich-looking fabrics and vibrant colors, with elegant headgear.
Please Don't Kill Birds
by Amy Freeman, offoffonline.com
After killing a raven in the forest, a king is cursed by the bird's owner. The only way to break the curse is to find a woman with “skin white as marble, lips red as scarlet, and hair black like the raven's wing.” Such is the story behind 18th century dramatist Carlo Gozzi's play The Raven . Gozzi wrote fairy tales for a Commedia Dell'Arte troupe in Venice. The story has been adapted by Ellen Stewart at La MaMa ETC, and transformed in a musical set in China and utilizing traditional theatrical elements from that country. The dazzling adaptation proves that some stories are universal, able to cross cultural, geographical, and time boundaries.
Hoping to help his brother, King Millo, escape from the curse, Jennaro goes off in search a woman possessing the qualities needed to break the curse. He finds Armilla, the daughter of King Norando, a powerful magician. Jennaro soon finds out that should he give Armilla to King Millo, the king will be killed. And if he does not give Armilla to the king, Jennaro himself will turn into a statue. Caught in a rough spot, Jennaro does his best to save his brother, coming up against almost insurmountable obstacles.
Stewart's production of the fairy tale is mesmerizing. Three projection screens line the back wall, first showing ocean waves and a boat advancing towards the audience. When the boat nearly reaches the edge of the screen, a real boat emerges from behind and is assembled before the audience's eyes. The space of the entire theater is subsequently utilized, with scenes occurring in the walkway above and to the side of the audience, in the aisles, and on the large stage. It is a big idea and it is quite right that it should completely overtake a large space.
Musicians line the stage right side of the space. The music, composed by Stewart with Michael Sirotta, is a mix of both live and recorded music, often playing simultaneously and occasionally making it difficult to hear and comprehend the words sung by the performers. The difficultly in comprehending some of the words could also stem from the fact that they occasionally were in Mandarin, with an English translation (I assume) following.
The conventions of Commedia have been mostly replaced by conventions from the Beijing Opera. There are several dances throughout which feature twirling and flowing fabric and ribbons. Everything on stage is highly stylized, from the entrances and exits to the way in which the words are sung. Pantalone and Tartaglia, two ministers to the brothers, each have specific movements they perform before speaking. Additionally, the characters each have intricately painted faces and gaudily embroidered costumes. The change in theatrical style shows the way in which stories are able to float across the collective world and speak to different people at different times while retaining relevance.
The Raven is a spectacular production, from its story to to its music to its movement. Although one could guess that the ending will be happy, the final result of the tale is surprising, keeping the story above the level of predictability that commonly haunts fairy tales. The engaging tale and sparkling production values are sure to be enjoyed by anyone who should happen to venture into The Annex at La MaMa.
by Martin Denton, nytheatre.com
The Raven is an "epic opera" created by Ellen Stewart and about two dozen collaborators who come from Japan, China, Kosovo, Italy, Puerto Rico, Congo, Hawaii, and many other places around the world; it's based on a 250-year-old play written by an Italian poet and has text in English and Mandarin and is performed using video, projections, puppets, masks, dancing, movement, song, dialogue, and lots and lots of music. This is, first and foremost, a celebration of the possibilities of theatre; see it with your heart open and with neither assumptions nor preconceptions, so that its singular magic can work with maximal potency.
The story of The Raven is a fairy tale—a complicated fairy tale, whose outlines are helpfully provided to audience members in two pages of the program. Briefly, it's about King Millo, who kills a raven while hunting. As a result he is cursed by the raven's owner, an Ogre, who tells him the curse can only be lifted if Millo marries a woman with white skin, scarlet lips, and raven-black hair. The king's brother Jennaro finds such a woman, but she too comes with a curse, placed on her by her father: if Millo marries her, he will be killed by a dragon. Jennaro also acquires a horse and a falcon for Millo, but they have the worst curse of all attached to them: if Jennaro gives them to Millo, Millo will die; and if he doesn't give them to Millo, he (Jennaro) will be turned into a marble statue.
There's certainly a point to all of this: my companion said she thought the fairy tale was about not tampering with nature (and the critic in the New York Times said it was about self-sacrifice). For me, it's about whatever each audience finds in it...and I found the constant awesome wonder of creation and re-creation, issuing forth over and over again as Stewart and her colleagues kept finding different, remarkable, imaginative ways to tell this convoluted tale.
So Jennaro's boat is created, right before our eyes, out of a few large pieces of wood and fabric positioned just so in front of three screens on which crashing waves are projected...and then it's created again, halfway through the show, at one side of the audience seating area. Three actors portray the horse and another works the enormous and beautiful puppet that is the falcon; more actors, shrouded in another of Federico Restrepo's puppet creations, embody the gigantic, fearsome dragon. And Jennaro is indeed turned into marble (that design is by Gretchen Green).
Parts of the story are sung (particularly noteworthy are the contributions of countertenor Benjamin Marcantoni, as one of Millo's ministers, and the invaluable Sheila Dabney, singing various roles and narration from the wings). Parts are danced or presented as stylized movement a la Peking Opera or Butoh. The live orchestra, directed by Michael Sirotta, plays beautiful music nearly nonstop, in many styles and moods, composed by Stewart, Sirotta, Heather Paauwe, Yukio Tsuji, and Cao Bao An.
There are even interludes where the story is shunted aside for a moment, so that we can appreciate the beauty of some performer's specialty—I'm thinking particularly of Juliana Lau, who performs two Chinese-inflected ribbon dances, the first of which is lit gorgeously by designer Filippo de Capitani.
Not everything works in The Raven or goes exactly as intended; the dozens of collaborators on- and off-stage are at different skill levels and some are more polished and precise than others. But the new vistas they collectively open up for their audience constantly astonish and delight...and what must they all be learning from one another in the process!
Ellen Stewart, whose age is reported to be somewhere in the 88-90 range, made an appearance at the curtain call of the performance I attended; I was so glad to see her, for her spirit infuses every moment of The Raven. If I'm still exploring theatre with even half the open-hearted curiosity and vigor that this show reveals when I'm that age, I will count myself to be very successful indeed.