Green Lions and the Roar of the Ballets Russe
“Durtal, had ceased to associate with men of letters. Their conversation, if one believed what one read, sparkled with effervescent and stimulating wit. Durtal had difficulty accounting to himself for the persistence of this illusion. His sad experience led him to believe that every literary man belonged to one of two classes: greedy bourgeois or abominable boors.” ~ Durtal is the main character from the novel “Là-Bas” by J.K. Huysmans, published in 1891.
I am a writer. I like to think that I am a writer. I am, always, beginning to be a writer. In this capacity I have been to soirees where what was spoken about above existed and felt as sad. Those swank enclaves or hum drum readings where the entire conversation is; “what have you published recently and who do you know?” The wine is often overly expensive, the tension is evident and there is desperation in the air.
I then, slink back into my old skin of long felt disappointment. Where is the great Tangoistic Debate, the Wild Intellectual Investigation, the — I will Dance on your Fucking table and smash glasses and break through to the next Veil — Moment?! Where is it! It is not at those places.
This is why I hang out with dancers and performance artists and musicians. And poets. Ah, you poets. Bless you. Because the amalgamation and cross pollination of these arts is what makes for that ideological and, possibly, revolutionary, explosion. Each art given spark and life by the other art. A tender evocation and aching arching attempt at transcendence. As a result, something much more fine than hedonism gets to emerge.
Welcome to Green Lions; a show that promises, “A musical theater literary spectacle with two unique shows in one, to tantalize your artistic palate”. Oh yes. However, what they are not telling you is where this all comes from. Perhaps because the inspiration for the show is not hip and oh so right now in the way that is usually understood. It is an ode. It is also a contemporary revelation of a once radical collaboration — the Ballets Russes.
And so, I want to tell you about a man. A certain Sergei Diaghilev who was portly and Russian and had a very fine mustache.
A wild circus impresario of a different kind, he gathered together the great artists, dancers, painters and thinkers — Debussy, Rimsky Korsakov, Picasso, Anna Pavlova, Matisse, Erik Satie, Leon Bakst, Nijinsky, Igor Stravinsky and even Coco Chanel — of the day to make something in the world that had never been seen and would alter the very fabric of civilization. The Ballets Russes transformed the way that the arts were viewed by the populace. That these fine arts could be both amusing and ephemeral and also, as written by Saint Simonian Olinde Rodrigues, “the most immediate and fastest way to social, political and economic reform”, was entirely unusual. A truly avant-garde experiment, these groundbreaking productions rejected conformity culture, provoked the establishment and ushered in the joy of the The Great Conjunction.
The Rite of Spring composed by Stravinsky and choreographed by Nijinsky once caused riots in the streets of Paris. One could argue that they, those Ballets Russes folks, started all of this hungering to be transformed by artistic expression with its challenge and raucous proposal and grab your soul out and make it burst through the roof ways.
Now, The Green Lions collaboration between Zarina Zabrisky, Simone Rogghe and Cybele and Todd Siegel of the Word Performance are bringing this idea back in the most marvelous way but with a significant twist. Though one will always find a writer or two lurking about wherever there are ballerinas, the Original Ballets Russes wasn’t packed with word smiths. This new incarnation is.
There are poets galore and philosophers and novelists in the show. One of these writers, Zarina Zabrisky believes that words are not just meant for the page. They can become live and exist in moving form. Her newest published work in conjunction with Simon Rogghe, appropriately titled Green Lions, is a poetic and illustrated conversation between lovers that will literally, leap off the page and onto the stage.
Speaking of leaping, Cybele Zufolo Siegel studied at the School of American Ballet in New York as a child and was taught by famous ballerina Alexandra Danilova from the Ballets Russes company. She says, “I think that tender personal connection to the Ballets Russes gives me a deep respect for ballet and theater and was the foundation that lead me into the explorations of the other arts. I love blending genres together and bringing poetry to life.”
The show premieres at a strange theater in China Town complete with winking dragons and swinging red lanterns. It is a fitting and perfect space for this wild collaboration that promises to raise up the spirits of then and now and put the spot light on the wondrous.
On a recent night, at Zarina’s house, we looked at her art books and drank champagne and cognac from fine, mismatched and artful glasses. Not glasses of the kind that one finds at those ahem, well-heeled events of desperation nor the boorish company neither because the expressions of the avant-garde demand not merely surreal performance but life as art and a commitment to generosity of spirit.
Spirit there will be in this show and fantastic costumes too. To the exploration of mind and delight and dance. Salute!
Performers: Zarina Zabrisky, poet Simon Rogghe, poet and publisher Chiwan Choi, poet, performer and director of Viracocha Jonathan Siegel, Kundiman poet and scholar Brynn Saito, singer Meghan Rutigliano, poet and musician Steven Gray, poet and curator Paul Corman-Roberts, dancer Edie Eve, actress Yanina Gotsulsky, performer Sarah Page, poet and performer Cybele Zufolo Siegel, dance interpretation from The Nutcracker Suite, wordsmith Todd Siegel, Opera and jazz singer with the Waffle Opera, Lora Libby, and the renowned Amethyst Trio on piano, violin, flute and harp.