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 To remedy this and other outdated concepts, his colleague at Seattle Pacific University, Doug Thorpe, wrote a libretto with more relevant themes.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 Molloy

This week’s striking music calendar has Stravinsky, “Saci,” “Suck City,” and more!

Inverted Space Presents Stockhausen’s “Stimmung”


The word stimmung is German for “tuning”—but it applies to much more than just pitch. While it may be used to describe the tuning of instruments or voices, it can also be used to describe the tuning of a group of people, or the inward tuning of one’s soul.

“Stimmung” is also the title of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 70-minute sonic meditation for six amplified voices. This week, vocalists from the Inverted Space Ensemble will perform “Stimmung” as part of their “Long Piece Fest” (the name is pretty self-explanatory).

The piece was among the first major Western works to use vocal overtones as a key element of composition—in fact, the entire piece is based on the overtones of a low B-flat. The work was inspired by Stockhausen’s visit to the Mayan ruins in Mexico, and it features a recounting of ancient gods along with some of his own poetry.

The performance is this Thursday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

Universal Language Project Presents “The Soldier’s Tale” and “Saci”


Russian composer Igor Stravinsky is best known for his three major ballets: “The Firebird,” “Petrushka,” and “The Rite of Spring”—but his smaller-scale theatrical works are just as striking. This weekend, the Universal Language Project is presenting Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale,” an hour-long dramatic work based on a Russian folk tale.

The music is scored for very unique instrumentation: a septet of violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, and percussion. The story is told by four characters: the soldier, the devil, the narrator, and the princess (who is portrayed by a silent dancer). The libretto recounts the tale of a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil for wealth, only to realize that his greed has led him to unimaginable loss.

The program will also feature a performance of Brazilian composer and pianist Jovino Santos Neto’s “Saci,” a theatrical work scored for seven musicians, narrator, and dance. The work tells the story of Saci, a mythological (and often mischievous) character of Brazilian folklore who is a combination of different cultural strains, including Native Brazilian tribes, African slaves, and Portuguese colonizers.

Performances are this Friday, May 15 and Saturday, May 16 at 8 p.m. at Velocity Dance Center on Capitol Hill.

Concert Imaginaire Presents “Another Day in Suck City”


What do Edgar Allan Poe, orangutans, and cyber-ant goddesses have in common? They’re all part of Concert Imaginaire’s upcoming music performance, “Another Day in Suck City.”

Don’t let the name fool you—“Another Day in Suck City” is anything but your typical music performance. Concert Imaginaire will be performing musical settings of poetry by Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe, a dance for an orangutan, the premiere of “Just a Kiss Away” (a 5-minute opera about love and war), and so much more.

Concert Imaginaire is comprised of music director and guitarist David Hahn, violinist Ruthie Dornfeld, keyboardist Jay Kenney, and percussionist Becca Baggenstoss. This performance will also feature guest vocalists Katie Weld, Sid Law, and Gabriel Tachell, along with video accompaniment created by Leo Mayberry.

The performance is this Saturday, May 16 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.