Jessica Redish (Conceiver/Director/Choreographer)
Q: Define Saudade in your own words; what does it mean to you personally?
The idea of longing for something that we can’t have, something that cannot return – something that possibly never existed.
Q: What was the original inspiration for Saudade? What was the point when you realized that this idea was going to become a fully staged production?
The idea came from an assignment I received (at Northwestern University) some years back, which stayed with me, and I felt the need to complete it. Now felt like the time to do so. I therefore had in mind for some time to tell a story – an entire evening – through movement and dance. I had specific shorter stories in mind that I knew I wanted to tell through movement – dances I knew I wanted to make. I listed them, formulated my thoughts and shared them with David Simpatico, our book writer – we had worked on a project previously and collaborated well. I shared with him my ideas for specific dances last summer and the first thing that came to mind for him it seems was the Alice in Wonderland story. We started there last summer. We found story points first, then decided on the music.
Q: Were there any particularly fun or exciting moments for you in the creative process? Any stumbling blocks?
Yes, dancing to some of my absolute favorite music and making dances to songs I’ve dreamed about making dances to for years has been a thrill. Some of this felt like a dare, and I dared myself to make that dance I’ve had in my head – now it had structure and a place, and a story.
That’s when choreography really locked in for me, I remember – I was very young and I knew I loved making dances, but putting narrative to dance and movement made everything make sense – all the steps and ideas and feelings and motion that evolved from the music – it all came together for me in the moment of story. It all just sort of locked into place. The movement had a place to go. I’m grateful that people respond so positively to the stories that are in my head and body. It’s a weird thing, to share what’s in your body and soul and put it out there. But that is our task. I put myself in all of my work, but especially this piece.
In terms of process itself, I respond to the bodies in front of me and use the body as architecture to tell stories. Every dance you see in this evening was built for that specific dancer – I chose them for not only their technical skill but for their skills as story tellers. Most of the action in this piece is inspired by subtext, actually – the thoughts that inspire the movement – David created the characters, scenarios and stories and gave us action prompts; from there I created movement based on text or text fodder – things the characters were saying or would be saying if they were speaking.
Q: How did you decide on the source material? Are there any sources you draw on that maybe aren’t as clear to audience members?
I took my ideas to David Simpatico, our book writer, and he suggested source material – Alice in Wonderland, the Echo and Narcissus myth and a story inspired by the original Dream Ballet. David is brilliant and gifted and I thank my lucky stars for his collaboration.
Q: What is the significance behind:
I believe for David the drugs play into the idea of excess in the third piece and, and a way of life in the second – a way to sustain, to detach, to stay thin in the name of the profession. (I will admit to knowing very little about actual drug use – caffeine is my drug of choice – (I was told to “just say no” and I’m probably one of two people who listened.) )
The color Red
The color red in the Alice (in Wonderland) piece for me was creativity, imagination, freedom – and, coincidentally, something over which the Red Queen feels she has ownership. The Red Queen is the adult world in the Alice story that tells us: “No, no you can’t try this, no you can’t enjoy your life, no you can’t be your whole creative self, there are restrictions and guidelines and rules and we must adhere to them.” One might say, in the adult brain, it’s one’s saboteur.
The three different Alices
This assignment was given to me during my time at Northwestern by Tony Nominee Lara Teeter who was quite helpful and generous in encouraging and cultivating my skills as a choreographer. He asked me, in the name of the William James philosophy, to create three dances, (for, as James says, we have three versions of the self) – the dance of the person others think we are, the dance of the person we think we are, and the dance of the person we actually are. I took this idea to David and he said this would fit well in the Alice story because she becomes so many sizes and loses herself, her identity is always shifting. This is how the three Alices formed.
Q: Are there any specific moments or characters that particularly resonate with you?
The work is very personal. My hope is these stories are universal, since they are based on source texts that have been recounted for many years – with my own personal edge as told through David’s book and story prompts.
Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from the production?
I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like a full production, it feels like a wonderfully strong draft of a burgeoning work, which was our goal and my intent. I hope people can see some of themselves in these stories, or respond to the images and movement in front of them and understand something new. I am interested in audience feedback for this stage of the piece, and have been receiving some wonderfully helpful information. I am grateful for the time and space to let this piece be born here.
David Simpatico (Story and Book)
Q: Define Saudade in your own words; what does it mean to you personally? How did you decide on the title?
Saudade found its name when I went looking for a word that would express a sense of longing and attachment for something that was no longer with us, hoping it for it to return but knowing that it probably will not; I typed in key words and phrases, and was introduced to a powerful, Portuguese word that embraces this exact idea: Saudade.
Taken personally, I think it is a word that has resonance in various elements of our lives. To yearn is a human impulse, played out in a million different variations every day in every person. I think we all connect to moments of wanting, of frustration, of need, of definition beyond our satisfaction or resignation. For me, Saudade is about the celebration of longing, the thrill of the possible, and the joyful resolution of the two.
Q: What inspired you to work on the show? How did the creative process work for you on this piece?
Jessica had commissioned an earlier piece of mine, and contacted me about an idea she’d had about an evening of dance theatre. She’d recently suffered the loss of a dear friend. She spoke about the emotional intensity [of grief and trying to mourn the loss]. I started to hear words pop out a bit and I saw a funeral with people grieving and one woman inconsolable and then a white rabbit holding a pocket watch scampered across and leapt into the open grave. The inconsolable girl jumped into the grave as well, and I knew I had a story. And I knew I wanted to explore the paradigm of Alice in Wonderland, because I think it presents a brilliant inversion of the hero’s journey, with Alice misled and accosted by one magical creature after another. The story laid itself out for me by the middle of the phone call, and we were both very excited.
I let Jessica sit with all the ideas that were tossed around for a few months, and then we decided to present it in a full evening, as the second half of a dance theatre piece, with two smaller pieces in act one. I was overwhelmed with the sense of longing we described in the notes for what would become Alice Underground, and wanted to bolster and explore those themes and ideas. We talked a lot about the pain of not having what you want most, and I saw Echo and Narcissus run by in my mind .We talked about the discipline and excess of the world of ballet, the brutal pain demanded of a brutally beautiful art form. I saw a ballet class, with a long wooden barre. And a wall length mirror. So I put Echo and Narcissus in the dance class; hilarity ensues.
Dream Laurie was an idea I’ve always wanted to explore, the dream ballet. I love the idea of taking an essential moment at the heart of an essential piece of musical theatre, like Oklahoma!, and going inside it to tell a different story. I think there is a Dream Laurie in all of us, just waiting for the right moment to emerge.
Q: Were there any particularly fun/exciting moments for you in the process of writing the show? Were there any stumbling blocks?
The whole research and development period was a lot of fun, with many phone calls back and forth between Jessica and me, putting elements together to explore the themes of yearning and need and expression and investigation. And how we could use the conceit of the dance to tell these stories. Also, Jessica and I got together a few times in New York City, honing the piece together by walking through it, and choosing music for a wide musical backdrop. I loved being Skyped into rehearsals once the piece got on its feet, a real treat to be able to watch and give notes from 900 miles away, sitting in my office at home! Technology allowed us to keep the collaboration tight and current. The only thing that could have been improved was the amount of time I got to spend in the same room with the director, designers and cast, I only spent two rehearsals, but we made the most of my time in Highland Park.
Q: Are there any specific moments or characters that resonate with you? Why/how?
I love the character of Laurie, who I feel represents the yearning inside of us all, the part of us that dreams of doing something beyond our abilities, of wanting to dance, and brilliantly; the parts of us that live in our dreams. I love Hera in Echo and Narcissus, who represents the brutality of power and the vengeance of jealousy; it is a primal yet sophisticated character. Both Echo and Narcissus make me sad for their tragic plight of falling in love with the unobtainable. The Three Alices thrill me with the possibilities they encompass to leap into various stages of a person’s life, to keep alive the memories and lessons and mistakes of our past, yet who ultimately assimilate into a unified, livable whole that allows Alice to keep on moving ahead with her life, despite the deep loss she has suffered. And I love the White Rabbit, and the way Jessica has created him, introducing the element of absurd whimsy into a hitherto tragic event. The Mad Hatter and the Caterpillar Psychiatrist are interesting to me as they represent polar opposites of chemical treatment; one medical, the other recreational.
Q: What do you hope audiences will gain from seeing the show?
I hope the show wakes up the dancer in them, or the pilot, or the doctor, or the sculptor, that part of us that lives in the pool of the yearning we try to ignore. I want them to get up and dance on the way out, I want them to love the soundtrack and have their own journeys as they follow the ones we present. I hope they can relate to the struggle of living in a world where you always want something more, and celebrate that need within us.