Stravinsky and the Saci: New Music and Modern Dance

by Brendan Howe

The music from Stravinsky’s theatrical work The Soldier’s Tale is reimagined with a 21st century libretto by dramatist Doug Thorpe in The Greater Trumps, a contemporary tale of good and evil. The piece shares the same septet orchestration as a new jazz commission by Latin Grammy-nominated Jovino Santos Neto titled The Saci after a mischievous, one-legged prankster in Brazilian folklore.

The two works flow together seamlessly in this weekend’s debut production from The Universal Language Project (ULP) and Karin Stevens Dance (KSD): The Saci & The Greater Trumps. It’s the first of what the they are confident will be many more multimedia productions together.

“We talked with several other dance companies before Karin [Stevens] and I met at a Community Advisory Board meeting for Second Inversion,” says Brian Chin, Director of ULP. Stevens had likewise been looking for a new music partner for KSD. It was a match made in a conference room.

The production is unified around the general narrative arc of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, in which a soldier trades his violin to the devil in exchange for massive wealth and then learns a classic thing or two about the relationship between money and happiness. That said, Brian and Karin both felt that an update to the story was in order.

“While [Stravinsky’s] music is timeless, the story is antiquated—there’s a princess who gets traded like a goat, and the tale is viewed through a faux-Faustian lens,” Brian says. To remedy this and other outdated concepts, his colleague at Seattle Pacific University, Doug Thorpe, wrote a libretto with more relevant themes.

“It follows the same narrative line of the original, but updates it, shifts genders [to a female protagonist], and adds some new elements inspired in part by the novel of Charles Williams, The Greater Trumps,” Doug explains.

Brian was particularly keen to produce The Saci & The Greater Trumps now, as he sees many parallels between the problems facing art and artists during WWI—when Stravinsky completed The Soldier’s Tale—and now, a century later. Stravinsky was somewhat ironically inspired by the difficulties of making dramatic art in a time of financial crisis, as are many artists today.

“Once again, we’re living through a time in which artists everywhere are saying, ‘now what?’” Brian says.

He has rather artfully pulled the production together with a minimal budget and sheer resourcefulness. Good relationships with musicians and Cornish, where the performance will take place, came through and revealed considerable generosity and solidarity within the Seattle arts community.

“We put 90 percent of our funding towards creating art,” a proportion, Brian says, that larger organizations with more fundraising power are not able to achieve. “Cornish has generously opened its mainstage to us. We’re also able to pay the dancers and musicians much closer to a pro wage than we were before, thanks to sponsorship from 4Culture and the St. Paul’s Arts Commission.”

Karin and Brian plan on engaging further with the community with a “Moving Conversation” (a sort of next-level meet-and-greet) and refreshments at St. Paul’s Cathedral following the December 2 matinee performance. Karin calls it an opportunity “to commune, collaborate, and converse with our audience through movement!”

The Saci & The Greater Trumps will be performed at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center on Friday, December 1 at 8pm and Saturday, December 2 at 2:30pm. For tickets and additional information, please click here.


by Maggie Stapleton

Spectrum Dance Theatre & Simple Measures

Image by Nate Waters.


Spectrum Dance Theatre and Simple Measures are two envelope-pushing arts organizations in Seattle – Spectrum strives to “bring dance of the highest merit to a diverse audience composed of people from different social, cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds,” with a principal objective “to make the art form of dance accessible through contemporary dance performances and high-quality training in a variety of dance styles,” while Simple Measures aims to bring chamber music into unusual venues, 98% hoity-toity free, and encouraging people to “Come, and Have Fun. That’s what we’re about. You can even clap between movements if you feel like it. Tap your foot. Bob your head. Heck, even dance in the aisles! We. Don’t. Care.”

May 15-17 and May 22-42, you can catch these two organizations in tandem for Rambunctious: A Festival of American Composers and Dance.  Some of the performers previewed the show on KING-TV’s New Day Northwest.

The word choice of “Rambunctious” is a particular effort to reach a broader audience, with implications of energy, youthfulness, and exuberance. With live music by all 20th century American composers and world premiere choreography by Donald Byrd, you can be sure the shows will live up to that!

Thanks to a designated fund for live music, Spectrum turns the stereo off and brings live musicians in for a couple of shows per year.  When asked why this is valuable, Donald Byrd says they’re attempting to bring new audiences to dance by reaching the classical music crowd.  Additionally, the intimacy of chamber music (vs. full orchestral forces) adds an appropriate element to the world of dance, keying in on solo instrumentalists and small groups.  Donald finds it rewarding to be in Seattle where there are so many top notch quality chamber musicians and utilizing them ensures the “best of the best” in presentation.  It’s also a challenging stretch for the dancers, causing them to think and react much differently and on a deeper level – and most so with music that is NOT straightforward (Wuorinen’s String Quartet No.2, for example!)

The two weekends actually have different programs, offering TWO exciting shows at two great venues.  The composers are presented chronologically, but each show opens with the Ives Scherzo serves as a fanfare opening for both concert cycles.

May 15-17 at Fremont Abbey

  • Charles Ives: Scherzo
  • Aaron Copland: Two Pieces for String Quartet
  • George Gershwin: Lullaby for String Quartet
  • Vincent Persichetti: String Quartet #2

May 22-24 at Washington Hall

  • Charles Ives: Scherzo
  • Don Krishnaswami: Trumpet Quintet (world premiere by Rajan’s brother!)
  • J. Zorn: Kol Nidrei for string quartet
  • C. Wuorinen: String Quartet #2


Michael Jinsoo Lim, violin
Liza Zurlinden, violin
Laura Renz, viola
Rajan Krishnaswami, cello
Brian Chin, trumpet

With combined forces, from these two organizations, the potential innovation and fusion between live chamber music and dance has boundless limitations.  Don’t miss these shows!