Wednesday, May 18, 2011

REVIEW: Chagall - Paris Through the Window + Bella: The Color of Love (Philadelphia)

Philadelphia Museum of Arts and Suzanne Roberts Theatre (Philadelphia), Friday April 29

It was a Chagall Day. While I visited a special exhibition on Marc Chagall at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts in the day time, I went to see the world premiere of a cabaret performance on Marc Chagall at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in the evening. It was not coincidental though, both were part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) inspired by the Kimmel Center on the theme of “Paris: 1910-1920”.

Paris Through the Window, 1913 , Oil on canvas, 53 1/2 x 55 3/4 inches

The exhibition entitled Paris Though the Window: Marc Chagall and His Circle, looks into the time when Moshka Shagal arrived in Paris in 1910 from Vitensk and renamed himself Marc Chagall and when he returned to Paris (he left Paris on 1914) in 1923. The exhibition was a study of Chagall as an artist in relation to the other artists of that time such as fellow immigrants Modigliani and Soutine; and the French Robert Delaunay.

The exhibition has more than 70 paintings, sculptures and works on paper by Chagall, his immigrant artist friends and French colleagues. It was an amazing opportunity to have a visual peek into that unique bohemian atmosphere in which these artists encouraged and influenced each other. One interesting feature in this exhibit were the women, naked or clothed; model, muse or mistress.

A few paintings in the exhibition were echoed in that evening's cabaret performance. Calling it cabaret is actually a bit misleading as it may imply something roughly put together for the sole purpose of entertainment. It was not, it was a serious piece of theatre art. Written by Theresa Tova and Mary Kerr with music by Matt Herskowitz, Bella: The Color of Love deals with love and art as seen through the eyes of Bella Chagall, the actress-writer-wife of Marc Chagall. It tells her experiences and feelings in meeting and falling in love with Marc in Vitensk and eventually marrying and following her husband through Russia, Paris and America.

Theresa Tova as Bella

The staging was beautifully simple and sleek with only a piano and a chair. There was a lop-sided screen in the back where relevant Chagall paintings were projected. While the staging may not be very "Chagall", the story, language, music and performances were dazzlingly shaded in Chagall colors, fantasy and folklore.

Theresa Tova playing the role of Bella, Marc and a variety of other characters was engrossing and rendered each song with commitment and earthy accessibility. While different voices and body languages were given to different characters, one does wished that Tova was a bit more consistent in some occasions and the roles were more delineated. The songs, meanwhile, were finely crafted and served the narrative very well. They were never overwrought, but instead truly served the script.

Overall, the day was absolutely gorgeous, absolutely Chagall.


Bella: The Color of Love
April 28 to May 1 2011
A presentation of The Gershman Y, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Philadelphia Theatre Company

Starring Theresa Tova
Written by Theresa Tova and Mary Kerr
Directed by Alistair Newton
Design by Mary Kerr
Musical Direction and Compositions by Matt Herskowitz

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