POEM: The shining thread by Anna Perenna

I love witnessing how this performance affects people in very emotional ways, inspiring them to think and create. Anna Perenna came to the show on recommendation from a friend of mine who studied Classics with her at Carleton University. She returned a second time with flowers for both me and Victoria, and shared some wonderfully insightful things she had observed in the show. Best of all, she composed a beautiful poem that she has permitted me to share on this website. Thanks for everything, Anna x

The shining thread

by Anna Perenna
to Jessica Ruano and Victoria Grove

The Moirai have a younger sister,
her name obscure, to keep another’s known,
her voice an echo making others heard.
Devoid of colour, she likes the brightest threads, most frayed, but unafraid,
and vibrant, all too short.
When they are cut, she picks them up and spins the afterglow of life,
a filament that stretches fate.

She chooses the outspoken,
the outnumbered,
the outcasts,
those who cast their own lot,
those who set fire to temples and hearts – a perfect cast for the drama of history.

Ghostly, spider-like,
she feeds the line back to her sisters, strengthening the tapestry
with a shining thread of memory.

And, interlaced with time, it reemerges
in dreams of distant lands in scents

in scraps of verse beneath Egyptian sands.

To her, this fourth fate, memory-spinner,
I pray for you,
whose shining thread is strung on every harp a woman’s heart

and Eros’ bow –
for you I pray, oh Sappho.

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REVIEW & ANALYSIS: Isis Sadek

Sappho rehearsalIsis Sadek studied Spanish and Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Ottawa and Duke University in North Carolina. She is now an Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina. She attended Sappho…in 9 fragments twice when it played in Ottawa, June 2013.

How to write about Jessica Ruano’s mise-en-scène and adaptation of Jane Montgomery Griffiths’ Sappho …in 9 fragments? How to write about it when what still echoes in my head is, even more than the stories it tells and weaves together, the interaction between the multiple elements that convey these plots, all brilliantly put into play by Ruano’s direction, Victoria Grove’s stirring and nuanced performance of all characters and Ana Inés Jabares Pita’s set design?

The play could be summarized as the intertwining of two stories: that of Sappho the Greek poetess who speaks to us from the prison-house of historical oblivion, lamenting the relentless erasure of her voice by a host of “clever, clever men” who appropriated her persona in their art and literature only to silence her voice, and that of a present-day Atthis, a fledgling actress named after Sappho’s lover, who falls deeply in love with an experienced actress aptly named … Sappho.  
If this synopsis evokes the play’s revisionist thrust, it hardly scratches the surface of how this interpretation of the play rivets, entertains and challenges its audience throughout (and of why, the day after seeing it for the second time, its fragments are what still haunt me). Perhaps thinking in fragments can yield some critical insights. 
 
“How do you tell a story when there are so many gaps?”
The play begins with this question, thus foregoing the temptation of presenting the audience with a unified narrative (a whole) to illuminate the elusive Sappho’s life and work. Instead, the script is based on the conceit that combines two perspectives: the voice of the Greek poetess to whom His-tory has been cruel alternates with the voice of the present-day Atthis, who endured cruelty at the hands of her sapphic lover. Victoria Grove’s talents and the immense skill with which she harnesses them make this plurality of perspectives dramatically convincing and effective. Grove first embodies Sappho with such an expressive balance between assertiveness and vulnerability, as she both taunts her detractors and enlists our sympathies, using a tone so determined and a voice so deeply husky and rich that, as a friend quips, it makes Lauren Bacall sound like Minnie Mouse.
Our surprise couldn’t be greater, when, adopting a more North American accent and a softer voice, she performs the vulnerable Atthis, thoroughly seduced, full of longing and self-doubt. This device hinges on the actress’ talents and it is a testament to her acting that the facial expressions, bodily gestures and attitudes that express Atthis’ fragility end up highlighting the historical Sappho’s vulnerability. Conversely, our own critical understanding of Sappho is enhanced by our closeness to the enamored Atthis, who delivers some of the more humorous parts of an intensely stimulating script. The use of distinct characters to tell parallel stories generates both closeness and distance, as Grove’s Sappho attracts and stirs us, while her Atthis’ fragility and emotional transparency distance us from the poetess. 
 
Kinesis and the prison house of His-tory
The script’s fine use of language and its careful selection of poetic images prove to be tremendously evocative in re-creating remembered moments and places. Repeated in each plot, these poetic images create parallels and provide us with anchors. Yet if this use of language is in good part responsible for our involvement with the characters, the choreography and the set design stimulate our attention in different directions, challenging us to not rely solely on spoken language to extract the play’s richness of meanings, and grasp the characters’ complexity. Consisting of metallic bars bound together to form of the edges of the cube that, draped with white sheets at first, sustain the ropes from which Sappho hangs, jumps, twists, perches and cradles herself, and swings sometimes dreamily, sometimes furiously, the set design shapes Sappho and Atthis’ movement, also positioning them in ways that define their relation with their respective tormentor, whether cruel His-tory in the case of Sappho or Sappho herself for Atthis.  
Sappho rehearsal 2
In this sense, the set design and the choreography work together to create multiple possible points of flight from the verbal anchoring of meaning. The combination of light, shadows and reflections, as well as the swinging and balancing and perching express more intuitively than her words Sappho’s fragmentary, and precarious positioning *and* her power over Atthis, intertwining the public and the private spheres. The shadows and reflections of Grove’s characters and their constant movement also highlight the shifting, slippery nature of the play’s very enterprise at reconstructing this mis-recognized figure. While from each seat, one can witness a different visual spectacle produced by the interplay between light and shadow, Grove’s constant movement becomes equally if not even more expressive than the words she utters, as is the case with her fast-paced repeated flailing between ropes near the end of the play when, following their separation, Sappho confesses her love for Atthis expressing through movement how this love had imprisoned her. 
This synergy between the set design and the choreography constantly probes the limits of verbal language. For example, when Sappho accounts for her historical erasure in a memorable scene in which the sentences describing how her poetry and writing were burned and her voice extinguished are punctuated and linked with successive “POOF”s as the lights turn off and then on again. Together, these elements supplement and, in some cases, deepen the gaps that language and His-tory won’t probe or allow, as if refusing to “never prod a pebble on the beach”, to use an injunction that Sappho repeats throughout the play. 
  
Sappho rehearsal 3You’ll sink without a trace 
While during the first few minutes of the play, the script establishes as themes the gaps, fragments and holes that plague any attempt at storytelling, its use of the elements of theatrical form is cohesive. The synergy between the use of kinesis and the verbal/sonic and visual dimensions creates an entirely enveloping and involving experience, that stimulates different modes of perception separately, to then incite them to function in unison as we grow accustomed to this mode of perception or, even better, upon a second viewing of the play. Even more than what the characters will say next, we wonder where they will be next, how they will move and what this movement and positioning will express. Ruano and Grove’s collaboration brings to theater the intense and meticulously planned sensorial stimulation that this medium should provide at its very best. This is no small feat considering not only the quality of the script but also Sappho’s damning repetition that “you’ll sink without a trace”, once quoting her His-torians and then upon breaking off her relationship with Atthis.
Along with Grove’s twists, intonations, expressions and shadows, the brilliance of this play’s use of fragments to compose this story and its multiple sensory effects will stay with this reviewer for a long time to come. 

REVIEW: Capital Critics Circle

Review by Alvina Ruprecht

A poetic transgression produced by multiple voices, gives new meaning to Sappho’s writings in today’s world. This performance within a performance, spoken by the silken and sensual voice(s) of Victoria Grove, incarnates two [lovers], whose poetic expressions of desire and beauty produce a portrait of the writer, so misunderstood over the centuries. Through these voices who relate their own passionate encounters with a blinding object of desire, we move between Ancient Greece and the modern world, to the point where space, time, voices and the original texts blend and Sappho the legend emerges as an eternal force of enormous power.

Some of the language is magnificent. The staging is striking, even hypnotic as the poet/goddess first appears as a fluttering shadow, murmuring her incantations in Greek, seemingly a return to the platonic vision of reality as it is reflected on the wall of that cave. Plato is immediately transgressed as Sappho removes the curtains and reveals her physical presence to all, thus imposing her own revised image of reality, which is what we then see as the actress twists herself around the lengths of twine, as she moves between those imaginary spaces in time. Greatly enhanced by the set, by the lighting and by the sound design that brings us back to the origins of time, the sensual voice of this superb actress, becomes a presence that goes far beyond the text.

Sappho wins Ottawa Fringe Festival Best in Fest!

Amazing news!

Sappho…in 9 fragments has been awarded Best in Fest and plays one more show at the Ottawa Fringe Festival TONIGHT at 9pm.

Due to unprecedented sold-out performances, we have decided to extend our stay in Ottawa and play for THREE MORE SHOWS at the Arts Court Library on July 4th, 5th, and 6th at 8pm. If you haven’t yet seen the show or would like to see it again (and bring friends!), please visit Eventbrite to buy advance tickets.

Artist-sculptor Tamaya Garner attended our production of Sappho…in 9 fragments three times and has created beautiful paintings inspired by the show. Her artwork will be on display – and available for purchase – at every performance.

Painting

Thank you, Ottawa, for all your incredible support so far, and we look forward to seeing you this week xx

Sappho sketched

A few years ago, Tamaya Garner wrote me a message on Facebook. She wanted to make sure I had credited her husband Bruce for the photo of his sculpture that was the front cover of my little poetry book. And when my books were printed, of course I sent her a copy.

We continued to interact on Facebook, contributing to discussions, appreciating each other’s art, eventually expressing an interest in meeting in person. Yesterday we finally did meet when Tamaya – a sculpter and artist in her own right – attended my second Ottawa performance of Sappho…in 9 fragments at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. In her flowing white dress with purple framed glasses and a purple beaded necklace, carrying a sketchbook, she was instantly identifiable. And I liked her immediately.

After the show, she shared with me and Victoria many of the sketches she had made during the show. Victoria and I were blown away by how she had captured the fluidity of movement in the production. Here are some of her sketches, and a review to accompany them. I am so touched.

TamayaToday I went to Jessica Ruano’s directing work of art at the Fringe here in Ottawa at Arts Court. My first experience with the formidable talent of Victoria Grove.

I knew nothing of SAPPHO before I entered. I was captivated! hypnotized by movement on ropes and words spoken with a voice made for another world! Did I like the show?

I am barely retrieving my breath 2.5 hours post.

Was it the visualness that was reminiscent of sculpture moving?

Was it the simplicity of props that were so ingenuously used not to dominate but purely enhance every word and movement!? Was it being five feet or less from contact of eyes and poetry?

Heart

Upon leaving I had to run to a dear friend. I had to explain this pure excellence of art form.

The rain is now falling outside my window.
The rain has always been my comfort my friend.

I wish to go see the show every day this week.

I would gladly share this great show with any of my friends. If you want to go just email me or facebook me.

It will be your loss if you don’t see it.

Four more showings at Arts Court Library

Today at 5pm | Tomorrow at 8pm
Wednesday at 5pm | Saturday at 3:30pm

We are also playing for two nights only in Montreal. For advance tickets, please visit sapphomontreal.eventbrite.com

REVIEW: The Visitorium

Written by Natalie Joy Quesnel

Sappho…in 9 Fragments is a challenging piece for audience members, but don’t let that stop you from booking your advance tickets now.  Judging by the attentive sold-out opening night crowd, this show will be a hit at this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival.

Seamlessly weaving the past and present, the disarmingly beautiful Victoria Grove effortlessly brings to life the Greek love poet Sappho.  While her reputation lived on, much of her work was lost or destroyed leaving room for speculation, gossip, and presumption.  The audience is left to try to fill in the gaps of her now fragmented life.  Juxtaposed with the sensual and strong Sappho is the anxious and eager Atthis, a young chorus girl who finds herself in her own sapphic romance.  Grove is an exceptional solo performer, fully embodying her characters with grace and ease, using precise vocal changes and mannerisms.  Her performance is enchanting.

Victoria Grove in SAPPHO...in 9 FRAGMENTS. Pic by Jessic Ruano.

Jessica Ruano’s direction and effective use of the set (surely one of the most unique of the festival) created the ideal environment for this story.  The use of light and shadow while the performer acrobatically filled every inch of the space was extremely evocative.  Though the pacing and delivery was breathtaking, I often found myself craving stillness and silence.  Some of the physical and verbal imagery was so beautiful that I wished Grove would have remained still for some moments, slowing down some of her delivery, allowing us to soak up the poetry before being forced to move on.  That being said, it’s a small criticism for a production that is overall stimulating, captivating, and a pleasure to watch.