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.

REVIEW: Apartment 613

Reviewed by Erin Murray
60 minutes | Physical, Solo | PG

Go see this play.

Seriously, whatever you are doing right now, stop doing it, and go see this play. It is incredible. Go see it.

The aerial choreography alone makes Sappho…in 9 Fragments stunning and the lush voice of Victoria Grove as Sappho is captivating beyond measure. The set design is simple, but highly effective, and the whole show is a visual delight.

Sappho, for those unfamiliar, was a female love poet of Ancient Greece. Most of her original poetry, which was greatly admired by her contemporaries, has been lost, and only a few fragments remain today. Still, her reputation has endured, and the holes in her story have been patched up with inference, speculation, and conjecture about her life. She has worn many labels (or rather, had many labels somewhat rudely forced upon her): teacher, lover, mother, raging lesbian, philosopher, artist, political dissident. Who she really was, how she really thought and felt, has been erased and re-written a dozen times.

Until now.

How do you tell a story when there are so many gaps? In her exceptional play, writer Jane Montgomery Griffiths encourages us to come in close and see the real Sappho, the woman behind all the stories. The show opens with Sappho suspended in a nest made of rope and white cloth. As she unfurls from her cocoon and entwines herself around the ropes that make up her cave, Sappho chides us for having had the audacity to mortar up the gaps in her story with whatever we needed over the years. And although she is able to set the record straight (or not-so-straight, if you’ll pardon the pun) on some accounts, the story remains fragmented. There are some holes that refuse to be filled.

Throughout her skilled performance, Grove switches between the character of Sappho, alone with her thoughts and lamenting her erasure from written history, and the nervous and uncertain Atthis, a modern-day chorus girl being seduced by her very own Sapphic romance. The transitions are seamless, and Grove plays both characters with sincerity and depth. The audience is swept up in a whirl of emotion, from the trembling uncertainty of new love, to the heart-wrenching ruin and devastation of love unraveling. These are old themes, but good ones, and Sappho…in 9 Fragments manages to bring something new and unexpected to the canon of love stories.

Not only does Grove deliver a knockout performance, but she does so while swinging on ropes and bars, and sometimes hanging upside down in the tangle of ropes and fabric that serves as Sappho’s cave. The choreography is both polished and exciting — and for those of us who struggle to do one pull-up, quite impressive.

Director Jessica Ruano, an Ottawa native with many successful projects under her belt, has brilliantly brought together the perfect harmony of a well-written piece, powerful acting, beautiful choreography, and superior staging. This is really, really, just a beautiful and well-crafted piece of theatre. Go see it.

Disclaimer: The opening show for this performance was completely sold-out, so if you want to see it, you may want to get there early.

Sappho…in 9 Fragments by Jane Montgomery Griffiths is a production presented by Jer’s Vision Troupe de la Lune with Tenth Muse Theatre and is playing at the Arts Court Library (2 Daly Ave, Elevator A 2nd floor) on Sunday, June 23 at 12:00 noon; Monday, June 24 at 5:00 pm; Tuesday, June 25 at 8:00 pm; Wednesday, June 26 at 5:00 pm, and Saturday, June 29 at 3:30 pm. Tickets $10.

Just arrived in Canada!

PlaneThis morning Victoria and I jumped on a plane to Canada. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, and spent our seven-hour plane ride chatting with our neighbouring traveller, reviewing lines from the script, and drinking several glasses of white wine. Hey, it helps the process.

I have to admit, I’m a little terrified. In Ottawa, I was known as a publicist and reviewer rather than a director. I worry that all those years of analysing and occasionally criticising plays will come back to bite me since I’ve now directed one of my own. Especially since I’ve been promoting the show as a ‘hit’ in London. I remember when another reviewer in Canada spent a few years in London, and upon his return people accused him of having developed a sort of snobbery. Not that I’ve ever been afraid of being called a snob. In fact, I’ve tended to regard it as a compliment.

Still, I am nervous about showcasing my work to my friends and colleagues back home. We’re going to be playing in some unfamiliar venues, and since this particular production is so reliant on the atmosphere of each venue, we’re going to have to work fast to make sure everything still plays well. Where will the door be? Where exactly will the audience be? Will we be able to have the same lighting plot? Will the scaffolding that we’re picking up tomorrow work the same way?

It’s been difficult for me to promote the show from afar: I’m not acquainted with reviewers and journalists in Toronto and Montreal, so I’ve been relying on personal contacts to get the word out. Will we have full houses for every show? Plenty of people have said they plan to attend, but plans do change. I doubt myself time and again, acknowledge that I could have done more to ensure sold-out performances, media coverage, and sponsorship. Maybe I should have made t-shirts and buttons. Or, maybe, the show will speak for itself.

I love this play. I watch it, yes, because I’m the director and I need to take notes. But I also watch it because I love watching it. I love that I’m the only person, aside from Victoria, who knows all the lines, all the beats, when the mood changes, where the ropes should be, and how it should feel at every moment. I love watching it because I learn something new about the text every time. I learn something new about the text and how it might be performed and how it might be improved. I learn things about myself, and how I engage in relationships with other people.

I have a personal attachment to this play, of course. But I also think it’s rather good. I may be new to directing, but theatre has always been in my life, and I’d say I’ve seen more theatre productions than most people my age. I watch and listen and I learn quickly. I’ve learned from the best. Even as a publicist, I would make a point of attending rehearsals for shows I was working on, to get a full sense of the play and how to promote it effectively.

But this show is mine. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something I’m proud to have worked on with a fantastic actor and a remarkable production team. Though it’s just me and Victoria this time, trekking out on our own for the first time, embarking on our first ever ‘indie’ tour. We’re probably going to make a ton of mistakes, but I’ve always figured that my twenties are my time for making mistakes, and my thirties are a time for making them better. Or for making more mistakes, until I figure things out.

One of the reviews said the show was ‘written, directed, and executed with passion’, which is a key thing for me. If a play doesn’t excite me, then I can’t bring myself to direct it. As with most things in life. And I know ‘passion project’ is often used as a derogatory term to describe something that has sentimental value to its creators, but very little external value to its viewers, but – for me – passion is the only raison d’etre I have, and I think it shines through.

So I’ll say this: I am passionately in love with this production, and I am thrilled to be bringing it to Ottawa, my hometown that will always be my first love.

Sentimentally yours…

ARTICLE: Xtra! Get Ready to Fringe

The Whole Nine Yards: Sappho …in 9 fragments is both seductive and romantic

by SERAFIN LARIVIERE

“Suffering Sappho!”

For those of us comic geeks who grew up adoring a certain star-spangled amazon, this frequently uttered epitaph was our first exposure to history’s most famous Greek lyric poet. But aside from Wonder Woman’s dubious endorsement, Sappho was much more than some vague deity in perpetual torment.

Born some 600 years before the (purported) birth of Christ, Sappho crafted thoughtful melodic poems about love and beauty that survive to this day in the form of fragmented papyrus scrolls and respectful mentions by other writers; even Roman lyric poet Horace was a fan. Her musings on the nature of passion continue to inspire other artists, and to many in the queer community, this woman from the island of Lesbos represents the quintessential lover of women. Her infatuated scribblings about other gals have inspired many of our Sapphic sisters, and she’s often characterized as the mother of lesbianism.

Canadian director Jessica Ruano’s knowledge of Sappho was limited to a few readings of assorted poems before she stumbled upon an interesting one-woman play by Jane Montgomery Griffiths. “I was in London looking for some ancient Greek plays for research when I found this script,” Ruano says.
“I had a very emotional response. I immediately started connecting it to various love affairs I’ve had. You can recognize yourself so easily in the writing.”

Griffiths’s play is taken largely from Sappho’s poetry; the playwright adapted her own translations of the Greek text into a narrative involving a love affair between the ancient muse and a young American chorus girl named Atthis. Sappho has taken on human flesh and is posing as the leading lady in a play, catching the attention of the introverted chorus girl.

“I relate to Atthis a lot,” Ruano says. “She’s insecure a lot of the time, she doesn’t believe in herself, and she’s always in her head, rethinking and rethinking... But she’s not afraid of  falling in love.”

And fall in love she does with the alluring and mercurial leading lady.

“Oh, Sappho is mad, she’s crazy, she’s wonderful,” Ruano says. “She’s so opinionated and very aware and political. But she’s also very emotional and occasionally emotionally violent. Sure she’s a bit of a diva, but she’s also prone to falling head over heels in love. It’s a fictional portrayal, of course, as we
know so little about her.”

One of the director’s favourite scenes between the two is a romantic interlude that leaves Ruano quite weak in the knees. “It’s such a wonderful seduction
scene,” she says. “They’re in Atthis’s apartment, and it’s messy and freezing cold. [Sappho] suddenly tells her to go to the corner and take off all of her clothes. It’s that beautifully awkward moment where someone who is really in charge of their sexuality takes over.”

Actress Victoria Grove portrays both characters in the piece, which Ruano adapts specifically to each venue as the play tours across North America and
Europe.

“What I wanted to do with this piece is use everything we have in the space,” Ruano says. “Let’s not make fixed features obstacles; let’s make them part of the play. It can change the audience’s perspective in powerful ways.”

SAPPHO . . . IN 9 FRAGMENTS, Fri, June 21–Sat, June 29, Arts Court Library, 2 Daly Ave, ottawafringe.com

10 DAYS OF FRINGE PREVIEWS

DAY 2 – SAPPHO …IN 9 FRAGMENTS

by Patrick Gauthier

June 4, 2013

Our second preview comes to us all the way from the UK, though some of you may know the play’s director, Jessica Ruano, from her days running the Ottawa Arts Newsletter. These days Jessica has exported herself to London (the bigger one) and she’s back for Fringe with a new show.

SAPPHO… IN 9 FRAGMENTS
Troupe de la lune · London, UK
by Jane Montgomery Griffiths

Within a secluded cavern, Ancient Greece’s first love poet laments her erasure from history, while a chorus girl named Atthis is seduced into a modern-day Sapphic romance. “Uncommonly exhilarating” ★★★★ Exeunt Magazine. “A spectacular physical and visual piece” ★★★★ Remote Goat. “Written, directed, and executed with passion” ★★★★ Female Arts.

ARTICLE: Ottawa Tonite

Surprises in Store

by Brendan McNally

“Actors love to dress up,” Zach Counsil tells me at the recent Fringe Festival Media Launch, “and I can’t really get into details, but there’ll be big surprises on the Fringe-O-Ween night.”

Counsil, this year’s Courtyard Host, is referring to one of the many events planned at the Ottawa Fringe Festival Courtyard on Daly Street.  It’s the place where theatre goers and performers can relax between shows, exchange personal reviews or dress up for 90s Prom night, another bit of fun planned. “This year the Courtyard will be an event to itself,” says Counsil of the schedule, which also includes burlesque shows, karaoke and free concerts.

It’s all part of the 17th annual Ottawa Fringe Festival, the capital’s largest theatre festival with 14 downtown venues showcasing 54 productions and more than 300 performances from June 20-30. “It’s the first year that it’s mathematically impossible to see every show,” says Festival Coordinator Melanie Karin Brown.

This year’s festival once again features a lineup of local, national and international acts. The furthest group travelling here is Sri Lanka’s Nishandhi Dance Troupe, while Sappho…in 9 fragments is coming over from London, England. The latter has a local connection as Ottawa’s own Jessica Ruano directed the solo performance that’s been receiving rave reviews.

Says Ruano, writing from London where the play just closed, “I love the Ottawa Fringe Festival for its contagious energy, accessible venues, and dedicated artists. I’ve been involved in the festival over the years as a volunteer, as a promoter, and as a reviewer. I’m thrilled to come back this time as a director and to introduce Victoria Grove, who plays Sappho, to my wonderful hometown.”

 Continue reading the article on Ottawa Tonite…

ARTICLE: uOttawa Gazette

Fringe Festival opens the stage for many uOttawa artists this summer

Posted on Wednesday May 29th, 2013 by , under: AlumniArticleEventsFaculty of ArtsProfessors.

Actor Victoria Grove

Victoria Grove performing in Sappho…in 9 fragments. Photo: Robert Piwko

From directing to performing in plays, University of Ottawa students, staff, professors and alumni are involved in all facets of Ottawa’s Fringe Festival. The Fringe’s impartial selection process makes it an ideal place for experimental theatre…and whether the play succeeds is up to the audience. Among the many people involved in the Festival this year are alumni Jessica Ruano and Nancy Kenny, as well as Department of Theatre professor Kevin Orr, whose productions promise to give audiences a unique experience.

For London-based director Jessica Ruano, theatre is about creating an emotional impact through visual moments on stage. While shopping at a London bookstore, she discovered the play Sappho…in 9 fragments. Based on fragments of writings left behind by Greek poet Sappho, the play explores Sappho being erased from history as well as love between women. When actor Victoria Grove who plays Sappho suggested suspending herself on stage, Ruano, along with Spanish designer Ana Pita, set out to make that happen. “We looked at pictures of ropes, and Ana thought of spiders and came up with all this imagery,” says Ruano. The end result is a scaffolding structure and suspended ropes that serve as Sappho’s lair.

Writers and performers Emily Pearlman and Brad Long

Brad Long and Emily Pearlman, writers and performers of We Glow. Photo: Kevin Orr

Through his company, Theatre 4.669, Kevin Orr showcases original creations from the Ottawa region. “I hope to continue to develop Ottawa as this incredibly unique artistic landscape that I think is still trying to find its own artistic voice,” says Orr.We Glowis a play that grew out of Orr’s summer creative labs, where he invites Ottawa theatre artists to the University to experiment with their craft. An original production by Brad Long and Emily Pearlman, the play examines what happens when two executives are thrown off the “life script,” or the intense expectations put on us by society to get a degree, get married, buy land, find a job, climb the ladder, etc. Orr finds his dual role as teacher and director has helped push him in new directions by bringing what he learns from working with professionals to the classroom and vice versa.

Performers Martine Roquebrune and Nancy Kenny

Martine Roquebrune and Nancy Kenny in a publicity photo for Dolores. Photo: Tania Levy

Writer, performer and producer Nancy Kenny will be debuting her French translation ofDolores, a story about a woman who seeks her sister’s help to escape an abusive husband. Translating the play began as an acting exercise in class when Kenny said the lines in French, her native language, to connect emotionally with the character. Set in the kitchen of St. Paul’s Eastern United Church, the play creates a realistic atmosphere for 15 audience members at a time. While some attendees will sit right in the kitchen with the performers, others will peer in through big serving windows to watch the play unfold. “I like shows that make me feel, as an audience member, like a fly on the wall. I’m there up close, peering in on these private lives,” says Kenny.

The Festival takes place from June 20 to 30, 2013. For more information on shows, times and purchasing tickets, visit the Fringe Festival website.

Ottawa Fringe Festival Tickets ON SALE NOW!

Fringe LogoThe Ottawa Fringe Festival launched this morning, and tickets are now on sale for a multitude of exciting local, national, and international shows. Thanks @ottawafringe for the Sapphic shout-out earlier today!

If you want to book your advance tickets for Sappho…in 9 fragments (I’d recommend it — the venue is intimate, and there are only six performances!), please visit this link: ottawafringe.com/tickets/sappho-in-9-fragments/

REVIEW: DIVA Magazine

Review by Laura Muldoon

Wed, 29 May 2013 12:15:24 

When it comes to Sappho, the lesbian community seem to have long felt an affinity towards her. A well-known lesbian icon, she has over time become inextricably linked to our culture and identity but have you ever read any of Sappho’s writing? It feels like she is something that has been passed down from one lesbian generation to the next, revered by many, but often without having much true understanding of what she was really all about.

Sappho… in 9 Fragments, written by Jane Montgomery Griffiths and directed by the unstoppable Jessica Ruano seems to go a long way to allow Sappho a voice to vent the frustration she feels at being twisted and molded to fit into different people’s views and beliefs. With Sappho’s current reputation based on the fragments of her writings that have survived, The Rose Theatre is a perfect space for her story to be told. On initially entering the theatre the darkness shrouds the space apart from a small scaffolding frame draped in white sheets and hiding a pensive vision of Sappho within. As the lights change the full extent of the Rose Theatre is revealed, a gaping hole where the historic theatre space once lay, full of questions about what was once there and what will come of it in the future as the majority of the theatre space is now an archeological site filled with water. The decaying hole that is revealed makes for an eerie setting, full of mystery, similar to the story of Sappho.

Sappho, played by Victoria Grove, stalks around the set, suspended from ropes and lunging into the audience creating an intimacy and intensity that makes a modern Londoner, used to hiding behind a mobile or laptop refreshingly uncomfortable. ‘Never prod a pebble on a beach’ repeats Sappho as she rants at the bastardisation of her texts but this is exactly what she does to the audience with an outspoken confidence that has been ripped away from her over the 1000s of years since her death. Grove changes between two different characters, an all-seeing time travelling Sappho and a contemporary Atthis, a young actress who falls in love with an older women, with a seamlessness which makes it difficult to notice when the characters have swapped as their stories and feelings merge into one.

The emotional articulation in this play is so spot on I found myself nodding along as Atthis was drawn in by someone vile yet simultaneously sweet, foul but also completely intoxicating, and as she describes the crippling feeling of heartbreak, the anxiety and torment of jealous love and the perpetual inner conflict about how we feel inside and what we let show on the outside.

As Grove hangs lifeless, stretches and swings from the set, choreographed competently by Ruano, the cold of the theatre (there’s no heating, take a coat) chills you through and lighting is used simply but effectively to highlight the emptiness Sappho feels as she looks out into the abyss and the gutted Rose Theatre is revealed to us.

The relationship between Atthis and her older lover is compelling and highlights the often overwhelming thrill of loving women and despite this being a one-woman show, during the love scene you can still feel the power this woman has over her and the vulnerability of being undressed and loving someone. In a modern society where words and actions are constantly skewed for self-gain in the media and literature this play offers little solace for the future as Sappho maligns the loss of her true identity but in consolation provides one of the most sensual and emotionally evocative theatre experiences I have had this year.

ARTICLE: Ana Ines Jabares Pita in Brit Es Magazine

AnaOur brilliant designer Ana Ines Jabares Pita has been featured in Brit Es Magazine. Find out more about her life and work, and let this be your excuse to learn Spanish!

“Volvemos con Sappho…in 9 fragments dirigida por Jessica Ruano pero esta vez en un maravilloso e inspirador teatro, en el cual Shaekespeare hizo sus primeros pinitos, The Rose Theatre.”

You can also visit Ana’s blog at: http://anainesjabarespita.blogspot.co.uk/