Songs of Bilitis exists in the realm between these two words.
I had the pleasure of enjoying yet another one of Rogue Artists Ensemble’s amazing productions, performed at the Bootleg Theater in LA, making this post both a journalism article and a theater review. Songs of Bilitis is about a French poet named Pierre Louÿs (played by Christopher Rivas) whose muse comes to him while he is traveling in Algeria around the turn of the century. It is the true story about a writer who wrote a counterfeit erotic book of poetry, claiming he was translating it from the Greek. Rogue’s signature use of masks, puppetry, and multimedia was demonstrated in their performance just as strongly as in their previous ones I have seen. The way they use sound and video projection is so innovative and translates beautifully onto the stage. I enjoyed how comfortable the cast was with their bodies and I loved the fluidity of the movement and the organic and raw nature of the performance. They captured the life of a tormented poet from the past so elegantly and with such emotion that it surpassed theater and entered the hearts of the audience.
After the show, I was lucky enough to sit with two of the cast members. Estela Garcia served as the movement coach for the production and also starred as Meriem, the courtesan Pierre spends his days with in Algeria. Christina Aimerito played the character of Mother and was also part of the Chorus. Estela describes Songs of Bilitis using words like “sexy,” “passionate,” and “struggle,” while Christina says the show is “exposed,” and “earthy.”
I asked them what is was like working in an ensemble like Rogue.“It’s both rewarding and challenging because when working with an ensemble, there’s all these people with wonderful ideas and you have to fit them in into one show,” Estela explains as we sit in the audience to chat. “There’s a lot of collaborating, there’s a lot of compromising and a lot of working through what we agree on.”
Both Estela and Christina joined Rogue Artists Ensemble in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Being part of the ensemble means being involved in the early workshops of the shows, experimenting with mask work and movement, and working with the cast and crew to build a story from the ground up.
“It’s an uphill battle, but it’s beautiful at the top of the hill,” says Christina.
Rogue Artists Ensemble always does a beautiful job blending storytelling with design images. “I’m a very visual person, so I usually am inspired by images and that’s how I create and develop work,” says Estela of her art in physical theatre.
Christina says, “I’m mostly all inspired by story. And what is the best representation of how the human spirit survives. And I think that’s what makes the ensemble really jive, is that these two elements clash together.”
This theater technique they describe as “Hyper-theater,” is their signature style. It is the blending of traditional theater styles with new technology and multimedia. Estela says, “I feel like theater kind of lost its momentum with TV and film being so popular. But we put a lot of work into giving you a whole package, a whole experience… we’re giving you a little extra something. It keeps theater alive.” Likewise, Christina explains that many elements of Bilitis employ traditional theater techniques. “This is how you make magic,” she says.
Up next for Rogue Artists is Hyperbole: bard, which is Shakespeare done their way. As well as Pinocchio, the darker, more serious version of the classic story. “The characters that you’re used to knowing as something else are revealed in this kind of upside down way. That one in particular is something for people to look out for,” says Christina of Pinocchio. Both shows are in the works for the next year.
Visit the Rogues on their website.
I was inspired by the story of Pierre being tormented by his muse. I decided to attempt to write a poetic, romantic piece in his perspective, echoing what the performance portrayed through theater. And I employed postmodernist writer Italo Calvino’s technique of ending the story abruptly with a break. He does his in many of his writings. Frustrating, right? Here it is.
View pictures below! Most are taken by Rogue Artists Ensemble, the crappy cell phone ones taken by me because I couldn’t take pictures inside.