Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Theater: "Neck of the Woods" Tells the Wolf's Story Like You've Not Heard Before

I will admit, I was skeptical too when I first read this claim: haven't we seen Red Riding Hood and every incarnation of the Wolf and wolves, done to death? But Neck of the Woods promises something a little different, and certainly, the approach is quite unusual.

Here's the description:
MIF (Manchester International Festival) has invited Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon (Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno) and celebrated pianistHélène Grimaud to create Neck of the Woods, a portrait of the wolf brought to life in a startling collision of visual art, music and theatre. 
On the stage of HOME’s intimate new theatre, legendary actor Charlotte Rampling (The Night Porter,Broadchurch) will recite and perform the story of the wolf as never before. 
Grimaud will curate and perform a series of works for piano, while Gordon will create the visual world. They have collaborated with Rampling and New York-based novelist and playwright Veronica Gonzalez Peña, weaving together stories, music, motifs, phrases and fragments to build this lyrical and beguiling work. 
In a new partnership to support their ongoing creative development, the Sacred Sounds Women’s Choir, first formed for MIF13, will perform as part of the soundscape to the production.

The Guardian has a lengthy and in-depth write-up on the show and the creators, (wonderfully titled "What Large Teeth You Have!") something which those who are interested in exploring the darker themes of fairy tales and LRRH in particular will find very interesting. (Note: this article does get a little dark with it's language and descriptions but also talks about the wolf as portrayed in literature and myth - why so negatively and the nature of man in contrast. It's a very interesting, recommended read.) Here are some excerpts:

Helene Grimaud working in wolf preservation
“For me, the most important thing is to be as close to the dark as possible, and then, when the lights come up, it should be the same as when you’re a child, when you have a nightmare and then you wake up and you feel safe and then you’re frightened to go back to sleep.” In his gravelly, laconic Glaswegian voice, the Turner-prizewinning artist Douglas Gordon is painting me a picture of a new play about the Big Bad Wolf that he is directing, designing and performing in at this year’s Manchester international festival. 
Entitled Neck of the Woods, it is a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story, and brings together an impressive group of talents: Gordon, the concert pianist and wolf conservationist Hélène GrimaudCharlotte Rampling and the acclaimed Mexican-born writer and film-maker Veronica Gonzalez Peña. 
...For the story, Gordon asked Gonzalez Peña for something “very loosely based onLittle Red Riding Hood”. Her script will draw on the many different takes on the wolf myth in literature, bringing them together in a collage of narrative, sound, lighting and singing. 
The wolf has not had a good press in literature. For Aesop, writing 600 years before the birth of Christ, it is a creature without virtue. It is insatiable. It is deceitful and selfish. It eats children.
Gustav Dore 
...in western culture the rapacious reputation has conquered all others. And so the wolf, and its humanoid incarnation the werewolf, has stalked its miscreant way through legend and literature, from the tales of Perrault, the brothers Grimm, De La Fontaine and Hans Christian Andersen, through DraculaTolkienCS Lewis and Prokofiev. When film came along it took up the baton and countless werewolf ripper movies have been inspired by Guy Endore’s 1933 cult novel The Werewolf of Paris. 
For all this negativity, the last century has seen a change in attitude to the wolf. Kipling casts the wolves in a benign role in The Jungle Book, as the saviours of Mowgli. JK Rowlingoffers a sympathetic portrait of a man fighting his inner werewolf in the character of Remus Lupin in her Harry Potter novels, while Stephenie Meyer’s tribe of shape-changing werewolves are warriors against the forces of evil in her Twilight novels. And of course there is the short story by Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves”, which subverts traditional sexual attitudes to Little Red Riding Hood and ends with the girl stripping off to take her pleasure with the beast.
"Neck of the Woods" 
It is against this backdrop that Gonzalez Peña, in conversation with Gordon, has woven her script, bringing in references to Freud and the little-known but influential early 20th-century American writer Sherwood Anderson. I ask her whether, with a mind to Grimaud’s conservation activities, the play will try to right the malign image of the wolf. No, she says, it’s not going to be a polemical piece. Grimaud acknowledges that a didactic approach would not work artistically: “In the beginning, I suppose a part of me thought, ‘Great, we’re doing a piece about the ecology and the behaviour of wolves. We are rectifying the story and telling the facts,’ and, of course, it couldn’t be that.” 
For Gordon, it’s not about real wolves at all. “It is more to do with the metaphor of the wolf. There is the history of the she-wolf, but mostly wolves represent a bad man. One of the things I wanted to explore with this project in Manchester was that there is badness, there are bad reputations and they’re not without any foundations. I think men are worse than wolves, for sure.”
And a note from the actress Charlotte Rampling, who narrates the play, as the "third wolf", via the Manchester Evening News:

Charlotte Rampling, Douglas Gordon & beloved arctic wolf (preserved)
..Rampling would be the first to admit that she was once a child scared of the big bad wolf. 
“When you re-read those stories when you’re older - the Hans Christian Andersen ones, the Brothers Grimm - they really are terrifying, they teach you really wild things,” she laughs.“You might say, ‘Oh gosh, children can’t hear this!’, but children do need to get a handle on primitive violence and the difference between right and wrong, who’s going to get eaten and how we’re going to adjust to rather terrifying situations.“Those stories have been read to children for so long there must be something essential in them that we believe children do need. And nursery rhymes - they’re pretty cruel too.” 
Cast by Turner Prize winning artist, writer and director Douglas Gordon and co-writer and pianist Hélène Grimaud in Manchester International Festival production Neck Of The Woods, Charlotte will be tackling the topic of the wolf in fiction - in particular, picking apart the reputation of this majestic woodland beast. 
...Charlotte is a multi-part interpreter of the story: as narrator and actor, she switches between the role of parent reading to their child and the protagonist of the story.
I want to include this final note from Rampling's interview as it speaks to storytelling today, something which is (unfortunately) often run over by film, TV and 'moving image' entertainment. I think what she says speaks to an re-emerging interest in live storytelling once again, albeit in a different form of multi-media. It's something I think we, as people who watch fairy tales continue to live in being told and going from one incarnation in popular thinking to another, as they're told, retold, spread, discovered and re-discovered, should take note of:
Charlotte Rampling
Having the innovative creative environment of MIF to transform into this multifaceted character is what encouraged Charlotte to take the role. “It is enabling these forms of creation to happen,” she says about the festival. 
“If everything is filmic language, we don’t give people a chance to express where they really are in the world. With experimental language, it means you can really research areas that you won’t at all be able to do in the theatrical system.”
"Neck of the Woods" plays in Manchester at HOME, as part of the Manchester International Festival, from July 10th-July 18th 2015.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ukranian Folklore & Riddle Illustrations by Valentina Melnichenko

I promised to share these a while back and thought it about time I did, now that I've tracked down all of them (I think!). These are, as far as I can make out, from a book published in 1988 in the Ukraine, on folklore and riddles. (Valentina Melnichenko also illustrated the very "red" Little Red Riding Hood illustrations I shared HERE.)

I love these characters! And there are a couple of familiar looking ones in there too. The patterns are whimsical and fun but take a lot of skill to balance and still look carefree. Amazing work.


I regret I simply don't have the research time to hunt down where each illustration might be from tale-wise, but if you recognize any (or suspect a certain tale) please do share!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

UNICEF is "Giving Tales" To Help Children Around the World (With Some Help From Celebrity Friends)

Hans Christian Andersen's stories are getting retold to help children, with a little help from UNICEF and their celebrity friends. The project is called GivingTales.

Have a look at the neat behind-the-scenes promo video:
From LookToTheStars (emphasis in bold and underlined, is mine):
Developed in association with Sir Roger Moore, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, GivingTales features the voice talents of world-renowned actors including Ewan McGregor, Unicef UK Ambassador, Stephen Fry, and Dame Joan Collins. Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless fairy tales have now been modernised, condensed and paired with vivid illustrations that capture the universal and timeless life lessons synonymous with Andersen’s stories.
“I’ve been a long time admirer of Hans Christian Andersen’s work, and I think it’s a wonderful collection of fairy stories for children and adults alike,” said Sir Roger Moore.

..Three additional stories are available in the first series: The Emperor’s New Clothes (Dame Joan Collins, DBE), The Little Match Girl (Ewan McGregor, OBE) and The Ugly Duckling (Stephen Fry). 
Today’s children are increasingly accustomed to consuming content in one short sitting. While paper books may be giving way to digital versions, classic fairy tales never grow old. There’s a big need to adapt traditional stories into shorter, animated versions, so they can captivate and inspire another generation of young readers.

“Taking care not to lose the essence of what makes Hans Christian Andersen’s stories so great, GivingTales has condensed the stories down so they can be enjoyed in minutes, not hours. Using the voices of renowned actors gives them new life in a memorable and entertaining way,” Jacob Moller, CEO of GivingTales. 
“We’re overwhelmed by the initial support we’ve received, both from the celebrities affiliated with our project, as well as our ongoing relationship with the Unicef UK. Together, we hope to make a difference in the lives of many of children around the world,” said Klaus Lovgreen, Chairman, GivingTales.

These newly retold and illustrated/animated stories have been developed by an award winning team that creates digital entertainment content, by making apps for Apple's App Store and GooglePlay. The first stories are becoming available this weekend (the first with Roger Moore as the narrator, retelling The Princess & the Pea, is free), with more stories and content to come in future weeks and months.

As part of the company’s mission to educate and support children, GivingTales kft is committing 30% of its revenue to Unicef UK to help children around the world.

Ask Baba Yaga: Can People Tell That I Am Unlovable?

The Tenement of Baba Yaga by Nicole Schulman
Today's question tugs at my heart-strings...

Here's the question and timely answer (via poet and oracle Taisia Kitaiskaia* of The Hairpin):
(Originally posted at The Hairpin HERE)

"The dirt on yr back & hands is not yours, and it will wash off... in yr bravery you will be seen & loved..." I have no words but "thank you Baba Yaga". (And yes, there's definitely something in my eye...)

What do you think of Baba Yaga's advice?

Want to ask Baba Yaga a question of your own?
You can!
There's now an email address where you can send your questions
directly to Baba Yaga herself.
AskBabaYaga AT gmail DOT com
To encourage Baba Yaga to continue imparting her no-bones-about-it wisdom (ok, there may be some gristle in there... bones too), I suggest we not to leave her box empty... 

Thank you Baba Yaga (& Taisia).

Taisia Kitaiskaia is a poet, writer, and Michener Center for Writers fellow. Born in Russia and raised in America, she's had her poems and translations published in Narrative Magazine, Poetry International, and others.