September 25, 2021 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Center Stage: “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk”

By Beverly Cohn

Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic have sent a theatrical gift across the pond presenting us with the U.S. premiere of the award-winning “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk.” The word “brilliant” is often overused, but in this case, this highly stylized abstract play about the life and times of Marc Chagall and his wife Bella, written by Daniel Jamieson and directed by Emma Rice, aptly describes this dazzling production. The story was written 25 years ago by Jamieson, who played the lead role, while director Rice played Bella. Her directing brings out the heart and soul of this amazing couple, illuminating the profound influence his Jewish roots and his relationship had on his magnificent body of work.

Casting the extraordinarily talented Marc Antolin as Chagall and equally talented Daisy Maywood as Bella was a stroke of genius as these two actors bring to life, in a most visceral and acrobatic way, the profoundly loving relationship between these historic lovers. Performed on a fascinating tilted set, almost resembling a jungle gym, designer Sophia Clist, who also created the period costumes, put together a series of set pieces that are interchangeable. The result is it’s almost like watching a circus act as the two performers fly around the stage, using long ropes to assume poses we see in some of Chagall’s paintings. Music director and composer Ian Ross helps drive the story forward through a haunting Klezmer* influenced musical score. At times the songs are sung in four-part harmony with composer Ross, musician/singer James Gow, and Marc and Bella who, at other times, sing beautiful duets. What is particularly fascinating is that the actors perform in white face, and different disciplines or movements are employed from ballet to mime bringing to mind visions of Marcel Marceau’s clown, Charlie Chaplin, or circus trapeze artists.

Young Chagall’s initial interest in painting springs from a fellow student at the Hebrew school he was attending in Vitebsk. He saw him drawing and asked how he learned to do that. His schoolmate suggested that he pick up an art book at the library and copy the drawings which he does, thus embarking on the road to becoming a pioneer of modernism and the only major Jewish artist. Later, he meets up with Yehuda (Yuri) Pen, a realist painter operating a small art school specializing in portraits. Chagall has no money for lessons, but Pen recognizes his talent and teaches him for free. However, the young painter soon realizes that painting portraits is too stifling.

The magical love story between Chagall and teenager Bella Rosenfeld begins in 1909 in Vitebsk, where they meet at the home of a mutual friend. Their attraction is instant but future plans are put on hold as Chagall tells her he must go to Paris to paint. It is there that his reputation begins to flourish and with that reputation comes more acceptance from Bella’s wealthy parents who own three jewelry stores. After two years he returns and proposes marriage informing the patient Bella, “I learned everything I needed to know in 10 minutes at the Louvre.” His mother is not sure about his career choice but tells her friends that her son wants to be a painter. One friend says, “Do you think he could paint my house before Passover?” There’s a charming wedding scene where the bride and groom sit in a chair within a chair, which in traditional Jewish weddings is lifted into the air by the guests. The dance sequences are exquisitely choreographed by Rice and Etta Murfitt, who work within a Russian/Jewish theme.

Chagall continues to enshrine their loving moments in his fantastical paintings using a unique palette exploding with vibrant colors, which are recreated by Malcolm Rippeth’s gorgeous light design. He captures that essence by drenching the stage and actors with the intense colors used by Chagall, right down to pinpointing their faces with a kaleidoscope of changing hues. Times are becoming difficult and political unrest begins in their tiny town with Jews being accused of spying for the Germans so the young couple pack up their belongings and flee to St. Petersburg. Life is not easy for them, money is scarce, and her husband is gone from dawn to dusk. By this time they have a baby girl named Ida and Bella, who is highly educated, spends her days in frustration for not being able to devote time to writing. It is during this period that the Russian Revolution is heating up and Marc hopes that those in power will recognize his work. He helps build Vitebsk Arts College but is eventually fired perhaps because he is a Jew. Further conflict in Europe is imminent and anti-Semitic attacks become rampant. Chagall is stopped on the street by a soldier, “Are you a Jew?” After a long hesitation, “Me a Jew? Why do you insult me? “Then you may pass.” Bella’s family loses their jewelry shops and life in Vitebsk is no longer recognizable. Drawing on mythology and the landscape of dreams, his paintings reflect the world around him becoming glorious illuminations of love, loss, and displacement while still maintaining a thread of optimism. With all the chaos around them, Bella asks her husband why he smiles at people. He replies, “I smile at passersby just to feel the warmth of their smiles.”

A quote by Marc Chagall sums up this production’s poetical depiction of his relationship and work: “I adore the theater and I am a painter. I think the two are made for a marriage of love…”

*Klezmer is the traditional secular music of Ashkenazi and Hasidic Jews, which originated in the ‘shtetl’ (villages) of Eastern Europe.

L-R: Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall with Daisy Maywood as his wife Bella, recreate a colorful image from one of Chagall’s paintings in which flowers are present.
Photos: Steve Tanner
Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall and Daisy Maywood as Bella recreate a similar pose from a painting.
Marc Antolin as Chagall performs acrobatic leaps depicted in the circus in Chagall’s painting.

“The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk”

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Bram Goldsmith Theater

9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.,

Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

 

Performance Schedule:

Tues – Fri: 7:30 p.m.

Sat & Sun: 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.

Closing: March 11, 2018

Single tickets: $35 – $125 (prices subject to change)

Online – TheWallis.org/Lovers By Phone – 310.746.4000

Related Posts

Review: Ted Lasoo Season 2

September 19, 2021

September 19, 2021

Rated TV-MA 12 30-Minute Episodes Released on Apple TV+, one 30-minute episode each Friday from July 23rd to October 8th...

LA County Committee Report Reflects a “Dire” Financial Future for Students of Santa Monica if City of Malibu’s Proposal to Split the District Is Approved

September 14, 2021

September 14, 2021

Editor’s note: the public comment period mentioned in the following letter has ended. The following is a letter from Santa...

Santa Monica Partners with McCabe’s Guitar Shop for a Reimagined Annual Concert Series

September 14, 2021

September 14, 2021

Americana in the Park, a New Free Concert Series Launches this September and October By Sam Catanzaro The City of...

SMa.r.t. Column: Stop the Steroids

September 10, 2021

September 10, 2021

Part 2/2 Santa Monicans face the usual fears of crime, Covid-19 and its collapsing job and housing impact including the...

Auditions Open for HVS Conservatory’s Inaugural Vocal Program

September 5, 2021

September 5, 2021

Hollywood Vocal Studios and Adreana Gonzalez are proud to announce the founding of Hollywood Vocal Studios (HVS) Conservatory—a post-secondary school...

Final Weekend of Marina Drive-In Movie Summer Series With New Movies Added

August 28, 2021

August 28, 2021

WHERE: Marina del Rey Boat Launch Ramp, 13477 Fiji Way at Parking Lot #2 COST: $20 per vehicle, per movie...

SMa.r.t. Column: Fix Those Balconies!

August 23, 2021

August 23, 2021

About six years ago a fifth-floor balcony in a Berkeley apartment building collapsed. A group of students standing on the...

Editorial: Unprofessionalism and Racial Insensitivity at Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. Leaves a Lot to Be Desired

August 20, 2021

August 20, 2021

By Santa Monica Mirror Editorial Staff A recent incident in which an executive at Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. flippantly used...