In recent years, the resident companies at the Granada have been coming together for annual collaborations, typically featuring the Santa Barbara Symphony, dancers and choreography from State Street Ballet, and one or even two other organizations. This season, the third player was the Ensemble Theatre Company, and the project was an ambitious one — to resurrect and flesh out a fully staged version of Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. With maestro Nir Kabaretti at the helm, choreographer William Soleau and director Jonathan Fox devised a simple yet appropriate setting that brought out all the spirited fun and dark humor of this unusual piece. Christopher Lloyd performed the narration, and actors Nick Ballard and Jamie Torcellini played the soldier and the devil, respectively. A second, choreographic take on the story was provided by State Street Ballet dancers Leila Drake (the Princess), Cecily MacDougall (the Devil), and James Folsom (the Soldier).
Working from Russian folktales and under significant wartime constraints, Stravinsky created a chamber piece with the implied dimensions of a larger work. The themes parallel those of the Faust legend, but there’s a playful edginess in the material that lends uncertainty to the mix. Although the duet by William Soleau for Leila Drake and James Folsom elicited perhaps the greatest audience response, the entire presentation was thoroughly absorbing, with Lloyd and Torcellini providing delicious counterpoint to Ballard’s soldier.
The second half of the concert was given over to a purely instrumental performance of Stravinsky’s masterpiece, Rite of Spring. Time has not dimmed the shock value of this essential work, and although there was no riot in the Granada, the orchestra’s approach was full-throttle and electrifying. We are fortunate to live in a place where such collaborations are not only possible but can reliably be expected. Bravo to all the many artists involved in this splendid and thoughtful evening.