Theatre review – The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall and Audrey Brisson as Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve TannerEvery love affair has the potential for greatness, but only a select few achieve this, and fewer still have the spirit of their passions captured on canvas for all the world to see for eternity.

Many of Marc Chagall’s exuberant paintings featured himself and his first wife, Bella, often with Bella taking flight as though in joy. In Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic’s vivacious production, written by Daniel Jamieson, the couple’s love affair and life is displayed in wondrous technicolour, with lighting, sound, an inventive set, dance and song all playing a role. As director Emma Rice says in the teaser video on the Bristol Old Vic website: “I’m finding the whole piece is like painting a picture. It’s like we’ve got a palette of things and we’re mixing our colours and mixing our ideas, and making a new art form.”

Audrey Brisson in Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk - Photo by Steve Tanner

Performed with boundless energy by Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson, we witness the pair’s first meeting and follow them through the years that follow, as they explore their love, face some of the darkest times in recent Russian and European history, and eventually make it to the United States.

Music director and composer Ian Ross
 and musician James Gow ensure the stage always feels full, even when populated by a lone actor. The wedding is a particular comic joy, beginning with Bella strolling the stage greeting guests we cannot see and admitting time and again, “Yes, yes he is a Jewish painter,” and enduring the uninvited sympathy of her relatives on one of the happiest days of her life.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve Tanner

Ian Ross has mined the traditional, classical and “the Rusco Romany element of folk music in Russia” to imbue scenes with atmosphere, while lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth shifts moods with an injection of colour entirely in keeping with Chagall’s paintings. The screen at the back of the stage that captures these colours also serves to show the shadowy figures of anyone standing and dancing behind it, adding another enticing layer to the texture of the show.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve Tanner

There are countless moments of laugh aloud humour, thanks largely to the physicality of the two actors, but also heart-breakingly tender scenes, as when Chagall is battling depression and Bella does her best to draw him out of it, and later, when Bella is taken ill.

Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall and Audrey Brisson as Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk - Photo by Steve TannerSome of their darkest moments are barely touched upon however, such as their arrest and escape during World War II, when the Jewish population of their hometown, Vitebsk, has already been eradicated. At times, details like these are mentioned by a character, almost in passing, but with so much beauty and interest present on stage, the emphasis is on enjoyment – dwelling too much on the bleakness would create an entirely different play. As Audrey Brisson says: “You don’t get to see the whole thing, but you get this beautiful arch through the story.”

I fell for the art of Chagall when I visited the Marc Chagall/Dario Fo exhibition in Brescia last year, and now feel I have fallen in love all over again. Emma Rice and her team have more than done his extraordinary talent justice and brought to exquisite life one of the artworld’s greatest duos.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is on at Bristol Old Vic until 11 June 2016. Find details and buy tickets here.

All images by Steve Tanner.

Writer Daniel Jamieson
Director 
Emma Rice Assistant Director Matt Harrison
Composer and Music Director 
Ian Ross Musician James Gow
Designer Sophia Clist Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth
Sound Designer Simon Baker
Choreographer Etta Murfitt
Marc Chagall Marc Antolin Bella Chagall Audrey Brisson

I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – Chagall and Fo

La passeggiata by Marc ChagallIn November last year I attended the Marc Chagall: Russian years 1907-1924 exhibition at the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia, Italy, where works by Chagall are currently displayed in conjunction to responsive pieces by Dario Fo.

Chagall’s romantic The Promenade inspired Fo’s creation, titled Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo, which translates as A gust of wind and Bella reaches the sky. Bella was Chagall’s beloved wife, and the subject of many of his paintings.

Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo cr Dario Fo

Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo © Dario Fo

While Chagall’s artwork shows the airborne woman anchored by her love for Chagall, in Fo’s interpretation, she seems to be buffeted – helplessly at the mercy of the wind. Her devoted lover races after her, his body language a panicked cry.

Either work on its own is ideal as a writing prompt, but I ask you to consider what happened between The Promenade and Fo’s responsive painting.

What has changed between this couple, and why?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.comFind out more about Brescia at www.skylightrain.com/brescia-10-top-experiences

The Marc Chagall and Dario Fo Exhibition will be at the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia, Italy until 15th February 2016.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, inspired by the life of Marc Chagall, is on at Bristol Old Vic until 11th June 2016.

Discover Budapest.
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Discover Laugharne.

A meeting of minds

Dario Fo exhibition cr Judy DarleyI’m an ardent admirer of the inspiration one art form can fuel in another. Occasionally these prompted pieces can take the form of a dialogue with the original works, adding meaning and verve to those earlier pieces.

At the Santa Giulia museum of Brescia, a duel exhibition is performing just this feat, showcasing 35 works by 1997 Nobel prize winner Dario Fo created in direct response to the work of his hero Marc Chagall.

Rather like a duet of piano and cello playing out to exquisite effect, with one passage of notes echoing and building on the other, the exhibition features celebrated pieces by Chagall reflecting moments from his youth and early adulthood, with dreams and impressions woven into the paintings and sketches, many of which have never been displayed before.

Marc Chagall sketchbook

Marc Chagall sketchbook

I entered this gallery first, accompanied by dozens of members of the Italian press, all jostling for a closer look and a quote from curator Eugenia Petrova and artist Dario Fo.

The images, which include stunning early works from Chagall’s childhood in Russia, resounded against the walls of the narrow space, presenting scenes of farmland against portraits of Jewish workers – this is the artist whose painting The Fiddler inspired the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a detail I rather love, and which demonstrates the visceral energy of his work.

L'ebreo in Rosa by March Chagall

L’ebreo in Rosa by March Chagall

 

Fo, you may recall, is most celebrated for his work in the theatre (as a playwright, set and costume designer, director and even composer) explaining in part, perhaps, this match made in heaven.

Many of Chagall’s works speak of love, too, which is also an enduring theme for Fo.

Blue Lovers by Marc Chagall

In a separate hall, I strolled amid the 20 works by Dario Fo, each created especially for the exhibition. Accompanied by 15 preparatory paintings, the companion pieces draw from Chagall’s work but also Fo’s own life.

Dario Fo exhibition

They fizz with vigour, revelling in their colour-saturated canvasses. Even pieces depicting traumatic events (such as this one by Fo showing the new-born Chagall being plunged into an ice-cold bath to shock him into breathing), are packed with humour.

Dario Fo birthThere’s a wonderful sense of Dario’s personality imbuing the pieces, a wry wickedness and a glint of mischief. This is, after all, the man who muddled together European languages to create a brand new theatre experience.

Dario Fo cr Judy DarleyWhile Dario (pictured left) claims to have learnt storytelling from fisherfolk and glassblowers, his passion for the work of Chagall means much of his mark-making has been influenced by the artist described by Pablo Picasso as “the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

It’s a legacy that lifts both segments of the conjoined exhibition, along with a passion for the fantastical and surreal.

Dario Fo was born in March 1926, and discovered Chagall’s work when he was only in his twenties.

It’s such a happy and harmonious union that I can only wonder that this collaborative exhibition didn’t happen earlier, and be glad that it happened at all.

Dario Fo's signature

Marc Chagall. Russian years 1907-1924: with a story in pictures by Dario Fo is on at the Santa Giulia museum in Brescia until 15 February 2016. I can’t think of a more delightful excuse to flit over to this beautiful Italian town than an exceptional spot of culture. Find out more about Brescia at www.bresciatourism.it/en/

A Chagall-inspired writing prompt.
A Chagall-inspired play.