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October 23, 2004

Fleshing Out "Temptation"

New York Daily News:

Robert Wilson's "The Temptation of St. Anthony" is based on Gustave Flaubert's virtually unreadable novel about a third-century hermit battling against sensuality. What Flaubert needed was Bernice Johnson Reagon. The MacArthur "genius" grant winner and founder of the a cappella choral group Sweet Honey in the Rock has given Wilson's exploration of worldly temptation a score that humanizes its intellectual concerns.

Partly sung, partly danced, partly spoken, "Temptation" is unusually accessible Wilson. Wilson, after all, is often an austere artist, creating visual compositions that change little over long periods of time. Here, in response to Reagon's music, the movement is livelier. The piece begins with the performers proceeding down the aisles of the BAM Opera House, some bearing artfully constructed bird puppets, others singing African chants, as if it were a homage to Julie Taymor. Reagon employs a range of vocal materials - spirituals, gospel, traditional African as well as her own compositions - to dramatize St. Anthony's spiritual torments.

Wilson has choreographed her rousing score beautifully. He also has designed an icy blue background that allows Geoffrey Holder's majestically designed and colored costumes to stand out. Carl Hancock Rux, an actor who has both great strength and vulnerability, is deeply affecting as St. Anthony. Although the music is powerful throughout, an especially moving sequence is one in which Charles Williams recalls growing up with "the carpenter's son."

Posted by acapnews at October 23, 2004 8:13 AM