This past Saturday night, Swarthmore’s resident musical ensemble Orchestra 2001 performed Stravinsky’s “Histoire du soldat,” along with a collection of pieces composed and arranged by students and alumni. The performance of “Histoire du soldat,” which was conducted by current Swarthmore lecturer Andrew Hauze ’04, featured original choreography and staging by Eileen Hou ‘16. The event was well attended, with current students, professors, and members of the community packing the Lang Concert Hall.
Orchestra 2001, the college’s emeritus ensemble, was founded by Swarthmore professor emeritus James Freeman in 1988. The seven-piece ensemble serves as Swarthmore’s musical ensemble in residence, and it has debuted many pieces by members of the Swarthmore music department throughout its tenure.
“It was their idea to perform [‘Histoire du soldat’],” said Eileen Hou ’16, the director and choreographer for the piece.
Before the performance of “Histoire du soldat,” Orchestra 2001 performed James Reece Europe’s “Soldier Dances,” as arranged by Hauze, and “Prisoners,” by Jeremy Rapaport-Stein ’14. The performance also featured the debuts of two works by current Swarthmore students, “Dance of the Mooncussers” by Nathan Scalise ’16, and “Dealing With The Devil” by Zachary Tanner ’16.
“Zach, Jeremy, and I all went somewhere slightly dark…there’s something kind of Faustian with ‘Histoire [du soldat’],” said Scalise.
According to Scalise, “Dance of the Mooncussers” was inspired by pirates who would use fake signal fires as a means of luring ships onto sandbars.
“I just imagined taking each instrument as some sort of quirky character and then worked from that and had them interrupt each other,” said Scalise of his composition.
“Dance of the Mooncussers” was played alongside Tanner and Rapaport-Stein’s compositions as part of the first act of the performance. The second act was devoted solely to Eileen Hou’s interpretation of “Histoire du soldat.” Her restaging of Stravinsky’s 1918 classic featured a changing projection screen, a minimal set composed only of a table, and an expansion of Stravinsky’s original three-person cast into a larger ensemble. “Histoire du soldat” tells the story of a soldier returning home from war who sells his fiddle to the devil for fabulous wealth, and subsequently tries to reclaim his fiddle and musical ability. Hou created original choreography for the performance, which featured creative use of ensemble members to make up for the minimal set.
“They’re soldiers, they can also be scenery, because we didn’t really have a set, because everything is moving. They’re kind of fluid,” said Hou of her cast members.
At various times in the performance, the ensemble members represented soldiers, members of a small village, and even horses drawing a carriage. Hou’s cast members came from diverse backgrounds, all with differing levels of experience with choreography.
“For choreography, I had non-dancers and advanced dancers. I trained some non-dancers, and I also worked with the advanced dancers,” said Hou. She balanced the strengths of non-dancers and dancers alike by using them in close combination. For some roles played by non-dancers, Hou modified Stravinsky’s original concepts by having trained dancers work in close conjunction with non-dancers.
“The devil was a non-dancer, so we used the devil minions to complement him, because originally, he’s supposed to be an actor and a dancer,” said Hou. She described her process of choreography as being conceptual, based on study of the source material.
“I like to come up with a concept or an image for a particular dance piece, and then just work with that image … understanding the play at a really deep level helps with choreography,” said Hou.
She praised the professionalism of Orchestra 2001 and Andrew Hauze, and was impressed by the amount of preparation both brought to the table. Hou greatly appreciated Orchestra 2001’s ability to prepare a complete performance before beginning to work with ensemble members.
“We didn’t get to work with Orchestra 2001 until the week before the play … we had two rehearsals with the orchestra,” said Hou. The product of those two rehearsals was acclaimed by audience members. Justin Pontrella ’19, who was in the audience Saturday night, greatly enjoyed the resulting performance.
“The music, acting, and choreography were executed to perfection, making for a very entertaining evening,” said Pontrella.
The selection and combination of works presented by Orchestra 2001 captivated the Lang Concert Hall, and expertly captured the “story of a soldier.” The event served as a unique platform to showcase original student compositions, as well as Hou’s reframing of Stravinsky’s classic.