This weekend, prepare for a genre-blending extravaganza of theater and dance with a heavy dose of Ancient Greece. The work is Gifts of War: it’s a play by British playwright Fraser Grace that premiered as a show for a single actor. In this most recent Seattle version (September 25-28 at Velocity Dance Center), six dancers will join that lone actor on stage. It’s a collaborative effort that brings dance into theater and theater into dance. Director Gin Hammond, actor Ana Maria Campoy, and choreographer Rochelle Rapaszky have teamed up to bring the project to life, and it promises to be an engaging experience for a wide audience. SeattleDances caught up with choreographer Rapaszky, who tells us a bit about the show, the dance, and the project’s social impact.
SeattleDances: Tell us a bit about how the show, Gifts of War originated. How did this collaboration begin? It was originally a solo show for an actor—how did dance become part of the mix in this current version?
Rochelle Rapaszky: Gifts of War’s director, Gin Hammond, has been working with actor Ana Maria Campoy on several iterations of this project over the last two years. Excerpts and condensed versions have been performed around the city at festivals such as On the Boards’ 12 Minutes Max. Gin kept envisioning a Greek chorus of sorts: a dancer to represent each character that Ana was bringing to life through this story. Another motivation has been to bring the dance and theater communities together to increase audience building and work sharing. The Seattle art culture is at a pivotal point. We need to be supporting one another to keep performance art accessible and alive.
SeattleDances: Is there a story? How does Gifts of War fit in with familiar Trojan War stories?
Rapaszky: This play takes place at the palatial home of Clytemnestra, where all the officers’ wives are lavishly celebrating as they await the men’s victorious return. The flares have gone up from Troy, signaling the end of the 10 year war. We witness Nemesis, our main character, drunk with wonder amazement—a stranger to these women and the opulence they enjoy. The work is punctuated by moments of ridiculous levity and darkness that begs questions of our own humanity. Beyond that, you’ll have to await the intricacies of the plot!
SeattleDances: It sounds like the dancers (and maybe everyone!) are doing an eclectic mix of everything in this show! How did the choreography evolve? What was the rehearsal process like?
Rapaszky: It’s true! Everyone has been pushed out of their comfort zone on multiple occasions—this includes Gin and me. There was a lot of planning up front. Before rehearsals began, we spent just over a month going over the script, sharing ideas, and deciding how we would blend the two forms and where they would stand on their own. That said, I don’t traditionally work as a choreographer that has a story in mind before the process begins. Generally, the story reveals itself during the process. I might have had a cold sweat or two about how I was going to approach this!
In theater, preparations for the stage begin quite close to opening, from a dance prospective. When I told them we would need to start nearly 9 month in advance, well, that was one of our first learning moments. This process has held much space for learning in that way. There have been some language barriers we discovered. For example, what dancers call “spacing” or “lighting” during tech week, theater calls “cue to cue.” Theater techs for 5 days, up to 12 hours a day. That just isn’t a sustainable schedule for dancer bodies, so we found a middle ground for that as well.
SeattleDances: I hear that going to this show will also support some great organizations like Domestic Abuse Women’s Network, Soldiers’ Heart, and YouthCare. Tell us a bit about how and why this show got involved with these organizations.
Rapaszky: We have known since the beginning that an outreach component was very important to us. Outside of this project, many of us work with underserved communities to bring art access that is not otherwise available. That said, Gifts of War deals with cycles of violence, displacement, war, and abuse, so we decided to reach out to organizations that work with humans affected daily by these issues. Because we are also teaching artists, we are able to offer on-site workshops in the fields of public speaking and movement. We are hosting a toiletry drive during our Saturday and Sunday performances for YouthCare (a detailed list of items needed can be found on the Gifts of War Facebook page). Additionally, we will curate talk-backs, post performance, for anyone who would like to dive deeper into these issues in a community format.
Gifts of War runs Thursday-Sunday, September 25-28 at 8pm at Velocity Dance Center. Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.