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fifth book of peace
Selected Reviews and Articles About Danse Lumière

Secrets on the Way

Poetry Flash
Literary Review & Calendar for the West - June 2013

Secrets on the Way: Dance Theatre Inspired by Tranströmer's Poetry

by Sandra M. Gilbert

In Secrets on the Way, Kathryn Roszak's accomplished and spirited Danse Lumière has suavely and powerfully formulated interpretations of poems by the great Tomas Transtsrömer that beautifully capture the writer's lyric austerity, his severe vision. With a single poetry reader, the actor Earll Kingston, who moves like a dancer and reads like a dancer too, with solemnity and grace, and with Swedish language voice overs, as well as precisely suited sound tracks, she redacts "Journey", Tranströmer's melancholy vision of a subway, its deaths and denials. This is followed in "The Couple" by a more romantic (though guardedly ironic) view of a sleeping couple whose "most secret thoughts begin to meet / like two colors that meet and run together... in a schoolboy's painting" - though they are walled in by houses packed with blank-faced people.

Liberation from urban constraints begins to gleam in "Five stanzas to Thoreau,", where Roszak's animated dancers (I almost want to say they are Tranströmer's, so true are they to his spirit) escape the city and seek to "vanish deep into your own greenwood, / crafty and hopeful." The beautifully cadenced concluding excerpt from "Schubertiana," traces the perils of life as the dancers brilliantly tight-rope-walk across the stage and learn to trust "the blind bannister rail that finds its / way in the dark."

Secrets on the Way concludes in joy, as speaker, dancer, choreographer and music together celebrate "All the rolling wheels that contradict death!" Here Earll Kingston, the reader/dancer seems to muse, almost ministerial, on Tranströmer's wide horizons, his never-ending roads, as he repeats that last line again and again. And the dancers, their lithe bodies now stripped to black leotards, affirm the truth he speaks.

We have much to thank Kathryn Roszak for here. She has offered us a strong rendering in dance of a great poet's passionate interpretations of the world. Let's hope we can see this piece again and again, not just in Berkeley but in many other venues.

SANDRA M. GILBERT is a poet, literary critic, and Professor Emerita
of English at the University of California, Davis

Pensive Spring: A Portrait of Emily Dickinson[TOP]


San Francisco Report: Kathryn Roszak's Danse Lumière

by Rita Felciano(PDF OF THIS ARTICLE)

Dancer, actress, writer Kathryn Roszak founded her Danse Lumière in 1996 to more intensively pursue concepts of dance theater that are based on literary (poet Gary Snyder, novelist Maxine Hong Kingston) or scientific (astronomy) sources.

One of her long-lived endeavors, most recently performed at Cal Performances Fall Free for All - a daylong celebration of the arts on the Berkeley Campus - is based on Roszak's immersing herself in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Intelligent, theatrically effective and emotionally rich, Pensive Spring brings to life the complexity of the poetry and the personality of one of America's most intriguing artists.

Roszak assigned Dickinson's character to a singer, an actress and a dancer. She used to take the dancer's part herself but today the role is given to ballet dancer Hally Bellah-Guther with Roszak stepping into the role of the diarist and letter-writer. Soprano Kristin Clayton performed a selection from Gordon Getty's The White Election, a song cycle based on Dickinson's poetry. Getty is a rather conservative composer but these settings display lovely vocal lines and a deft sense for the poetry. Some of them tend toward the operatic - especially as interpreted by Clayton - but oth­ers are elegiac or wispy and reminiscent of folk songs. Roszak's choreography - though limited, given the space limitations - responds sensitively to the music's nuances. Bellah-Guther is a tiny dancer most effective in the frolicking passages; her gestures, however, tend to the overly dramatic. Roszak is quite a good actress. The former dancer still moves with considerable grace though her greatest asset today is a beautifully modu­lated alto voice and immaculate diction. She imbued Dickinson with the sparkle and a wit that is more easily perceptible in her letters than in the poetry. The inter­action between the three performers was well designed; "Pensive" flowed with an easy grace. (September 25, 2011, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley)

The Fifth Book of Peace[TOP]

Poetry Flash
MOSTLY BOOKS - January 10, 2009

Books of Peace

a review by Sharon Coleman

Even if the troops were called back from the occupation of Iraq tomorrow, it would take a lifetime to insure no soldier, man or woman, is left behind. The psychological toll on soldiers changes with each war as new technologies and strategies render unexpected results, another version of "friendly fire." With the Vietnam War, soldiers were trained into "killing machines" as never before, and their target became civilians, more and more. Add to that chemical warfare and guerilla tactics and drug addiction and demoralization and then a Veterans Health Administration unprepared and sometimes unwilling to treat our mental casualties. A few veterans turned to writing. A noted example is the writing group of Vietnam vets facilitated by East Bay writer Maxine Hong Kingston, and which she describes in her memoir, The Fifth Book of Peace. Their work is anthologized in Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, which she edited. As history repeats itself, their writings' value is self-evident.

This fall the poems and stories of this group escaped the bound pages of the book and transformed into a mixed- media performance of dance, theater, music, lighting, followed by discussion. Danse Lumière, directed by performer and choreographer Kathryn Roszak, is dedicated to mounting literary works into dance and theater productions. The Fifth Book of Peace is perhaps the company's most ambitious project, both in its current social context and in its multilayered, multifaceted production. It brings together a Bay Area panoply of artists and writers. LINES Ballet and Dominican University's program in dance provided talented young dancers able to well carry out the depth of acting demanded of the roles, which is rare in dancers so young. Ron van Leeuwaard, a composer originally from Suriname who has collaborated with a number of world music bands and theater companies, created a score based on electronic music, ambient sounds of helicopters, bullets and ocean waves, traditional Asian music, flute, percussion, and rifts of popular music of the time period. The script, adapted by Katherine Roszak, is based on the writings of Maxine Hong Kingston, on the stories of award-winning novelist James Janko and other participants of Kingston's Vietnam vet writing group, and on the written testimony of Pauline Laurent in Grief Denied, a Vietnam Widow's Story. Daniel Ellsberg, revealer of the "Pentagon Papers" and renowned nonfiction author, held a post-performance discussion at the November performance. And the list of those involved goes on.

On stage, The Fifth Book of Peace poetically narrates the journey "back home" of an "Old Vet." Played by actor Steve Ortiz, the Old Vet exists in a psychic no man's land and is guided to tell his story, to exorcise the memories, by the female and male incarnations of Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion, whose twin aspects are played by Kathryn Roszak and martial artist Ben Tang. Tableaux of the Old Vet's flash backs are danced so that actors and dancers double the older and younger selves. Whether narrative, gesture, pure emotion, abstract movement or symbolic action, the dance with its poetic subtlety and range truly carries the performance. Add costumes silkscreened by Kaibrina Sky Buck that transform dancers into a forest or a ghost to the choreography (also by Roszak), and the visuals are enthralling. Perhaps the most captivating parts are when the ensemble dances the role of the jungle. They become an array of symmetrical and asymmetrical moves morphing from ballet to modern to animal-like steps, a place of unexpected lyrical motion and mortal danger.

The message and stories are clear: clear and, unfortunately, enduring.

Sharon Coleman is a poet who teaches at Berkeley City College. She is an editor of Poetry Flash.

The Fifth Book of Peace, a fusion of dance, theater, and music presented by Danse Lumière, conceived and choreographed by Kathryn Roszak: October 24-26, 2008, Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco, California, and November 6, 2008, Dominican University, San Rafael, California. These productions were co-sponsored by Poetry Flash, and were adapted from and inspired by The Fifth Book of Peace, a book by Maxine Hong Kingston.


Generations Beat Online
E-News of the Journalists Network on Generations - Volume 12, Number 6, March 15, 2012

The Arts Beat: Spank Michael McClure with 80 Roses

by Paul Kleyman

The venerable poet - his handsome vigor belying his nearly 80 years - stood patiently beside the piano, clad in black under his sea-foam swell of white hair, as he waited to catch the next rhythmic wave for bending the notes of another verse. Jazz virtuoso George Brooks eased pink fingers bar-to-bar over ivories and ebonies. He glanced up and Michael McClure peered down to pick up the beat for a phrase or verse from his large blue folder. A shawled crone and younger woman with a golden fall of hair danced, circling the ruddy head of a ceramic horse sculpted vertically in full whinny.

The stars of the premier performance of McClure's "Mysteriosos," soulfully transported by Brooks on piano and saxophone, gave the sold-out if compact audience of about 150 at the Berkeley Jazzschool a rose-fresh scent to the daisy-chain cliché of poetry read to against jazz rhythms. I couldn't help but think of the now-classic kinescope of McClure's friend Jack Kerouac chanting his poems on late-night TV, while standing beside a sleek grand piano played by host Steve Allen. But McClure's evening wasn't a nostalgic rehash of a tired custom.

What was new for McClure was the choreography and performance by Danse Lumière's director Kathryn Roszak, with Los Angeles-based guest dancer Lissa Resnick. Roszak and Resnick scribed the poems in a calligraphy of limbs, although Roszak, at 50, proved too lithe and lovely to carry off her portrayal of a dancing crone, an image she drew from the poems, very convincingly. She only proved that 50 is the new eternal.

Roszak approached McClure about collaborating after she read the beat-scene icon's 2010 volume, "Mysteriosos." The poetry collection is titled in homage to enigmatic pianist Thelonious Monk's 1958 album of that name. McClure had never partnered with a dance company before, and was, as always, ready for something new.

Their selection of just a few poems harmonized beautifully with the dance and movement, syncopated with McClure's intensely ecological images: "See the little sparrow with her eyes on the hawk / Everything around is just more talk / Don't use a knife to pound in a nail / Spank me with a rose / I'm headed for jail." There were only hints of McClure's signature "Grahhs," his deep vocalizations asserting the powers of the earth, or of his political anguish. But the "clanking of trucks, thunder-shaking waves, and the taste of mangos" surprised and sweetened the audience's appetite for more.

As I watched, enchanted throughout the performance, I thought this might be a perfect time for more such collaborations with fine artists of the new old age to bring poetry a new life through such collaborations. Roszak has worked in the past with the great Gary Snyder and others, but why not a revitalization - not a mere revival - of the jazz-poetry tradition?

Roszak mentioned after the performance that she'd like to develop other such programs for a larger venue, for example, the Berkeley Repertory Theater, next door to the Jazzschool. Judging by the full audience earlier this month and the enthusiastic response, I wonder if rep theaters around the country might do well to consider harmonizing the muses for young and old, especially given the current poetry revival. Meanwhile, what did I do with that rose?

The Star Dances[TOP]

Mercury Magazine

Reaching Out: Dance as Astronomical Outreach
Conveying the dynamic nature of the universe to the general public is a challenge.

by Bethany Cobb(PDF OF THIS ARTICLE)

Astronomy is renowned for exposing the intrinsic beauty of the universe. What a single Hubble Space Telescope image cannot capture, however, is that astronomy is also kinetic: violent and chaotic, rhythmical and graceful, at turns languid and swift.

This presents an interesting challenge. How can astronomers convey the dynamic nature of the universe to the general public? Animations and computer simulations are one obvious pathway. Less conventional methods, however, have the power to attract new audiences and even to challenge our own minds.

Combining dance and astronomy is clearly a non-traditional approach, but these seemingly disparate realms can be fused successfully to educate and inspire an audience. Dance is defined by motion and is a powerful tool for expressing the character of the ever-changing universe. The profound nature of dance also allows it to connect organically with the audience. Perhaps most importantly, the non-threatening artistry of dance may even attract members of the general public who might otherwise be intimidated by the science of astronomy.

During the last year, I had the pleasure of working with choreographer Kathryn Roszak on a dance/astronomy collaboration inspired by the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. I am not a dancer and have no experience with professional dance other than a sincere appreciation for the performing arts. But this unconventional project has significantly expanded my vision of astronomy public outreach.

Kathryn Roszak is an artist with considerable experience translating novel, scholarly concepts into dance. Her dance company, Danse Lumière, creates dance theater linking arts, sciences, and the humanities. Kathryn and I met at the beginning of 2009 through our teaching at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley. I was a new instructor at the Institute, beginning my first class: "Six Questions for Modern Astronomy." When we met, Kathryn was preparing a dance inspired by astronomy ("Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler") for Humanities West's Fall 2009 program. Humanities West is a non-profit organization in San Francisco.

Kathryn was excited about learning more about the universe. I provided her with articles regarding the newest discoveries in astronomy. Kathryn invited me to attend rehearsals of "The Star Dances" to discuss astronomy with the dancers. At the rehearsals, I was impressed by how astronomy was encapsulated into the dance both in apparent and subtle, imaginative ways. "The Star Dances" are accompanied by a piano version of Gustav Holst's "The Planets," with additional music by Eric Satie.

Prior to the October 2009 première of "The Star Dances," Humanities West invited us to talk about our collaboration at the Mechanics' Institute Library in San Francisco. I discussed the astronomical science, while Kathryn spoke about her creative process. I was pleased that our audience included more women than is typical for the average astronomy public lecture.

"The Star Dances" was presented at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley on December 12, 2009, as an interactive family program. We interspersed the dance with a multi-media astronomy presentation. To help the kids connect the dance with the science that I explained, Kathryn and the dancers demonstrated specific dance movements before each section was performed. For example, I showed videos of material streaming from the Sun into space, and talked about how these particles impact Mercury and even cause the aurora on Earth. The dancers then illustrated a part of the "Mercury" dance in which they interact by tossing around an imaginary ball.

This program also involved active audience participation. During the talk, the audience answered questions about astronomy. At the end of the program, a group of kids (and parents) became particles moving around the universe and forming into a solar system. Inflatable models of the planets added to the excitement! We believe we succeeded in our goal of inspiring in our young audience an interest in, and enthusiasm for, both the arts and science.

This exciting combination of astronomy and dance promotes intellectual curiosity and makes both subjects accessible to new audiences. Therefore, we plan to continue our collaboration in the future. "The Star Dances" depict, with form and movement, the universe's energy, grace, and even playfulness, and we hope our program illustrates that science public outreach can successfully incorporate art and beauty.

BETHANY COBB is a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley, where she studies gamma-ray bursts and engages in public outreach, including teaching at the Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

the Sun King


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