Jack Zipes gives the lecture Resurrecting Dead Fairy Tales on Facebook Feb. 17. (photo from MISCELLANEOUS Productions)
Some fairy tales are timeless in that they still have lessons to impart. For example, The Pied Piper, a story dating back to the Middle Ages, “is a tale of plague, greed, betrayal, conformity/confinement with allusions to child abuse,” explained Elaine Carol, co-founder and artistic director of MISCELLANEOUS Productions.
MISCELLANEOUS’s Plague project will have participating youth, along with professional artists, interpreting the Brothers Grimm’s The Pied Piper “from an intersectional, anti-racist, anti-oppression, queer feminist perspective.” In preparation, Carol told the Independent, “we have been reading our way through the mountain of brilliant writing by Jack Zipes, asking him many questions – even our film editor of Resurrecting Dead Fairy Tales is now reading two of his hundred or more published books.”
Zipes’ recorded Facebook Watch talk, Resurrecting Dead Fairy Tales, will be streamed Feb. 17, followed by a live Q&A with Zipes. Some of the lecture will be part of the documentary being created about the youth-centred theatre project, which will include various workshops and an eventual stage production at the Scotiabank Dance Centre in 2022.
“I have also been working with young professional artists Tiffany Yang, who was a youth in our Monsters production, national and international tours, and Julia Farry, our production assistant/outreach worker,” said Carol. “Tiffany has translated four indigenous Taiwanese folk tales that are stories of plague – mostly in coastal communities, including animal wonder tales of fantastical fishes and other fascinating narratives. Julia has translated three Japanese folk tales focusing on plagues. There are many plague stories that we still hope to collect, including the facts of disease spread by European settlers to the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, as research materials for our project-in-development.
“We are currently collecting these tales to bring to our youth cast after it is deemed safe to work with them in person,” Carol continued, “as we will be using theatre, hip hop/streetdance, contemporary dance, marimba and world music, urban music, performance art, etc., to co-create a new play. This play will be used as a vehicle for the youth to discuss their own experiences of living in a world pandemic.”
Zipes’ lecture was filmed in Minneapolis by MISCELLANEOUS Productions’ professionals. The professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota is an expert on folklore and fairy tales. He is a storyteller himself and the founder of the publishing house Little Mole and Honey Bear.
“My parents and grandmother always told me tales of different kinds,” Zipes told the Independent. “When I began studying for a PhD at Columbia University, I wrote my dissertation on ‘The Great Refusal: Studies of the German and American Romantics in the 19th Century.’ My interest in fairy tales grew as I realized that these imaginary tales hold more truth than the so-called realistic future. And I also was angered by Bruno Bettelheim’s book about fairy tales in which he imposed a Freudian interpretation on readers. Since then, I have been trying to reveal how relevant fairy tales are to our lives.”
The examples given in the lecture’s press release are from two books Zipes has translated and published: “For example, in Yussuf the Ostrich, well-known political caricaturist Emery Kelen tells the story of a young ostrich who helps defeat the Nazis in northern Africa during World War II. In Keedle, The Great, first published in 1940, Deirdre and William Conselman Jr. sought to give Americans hope that the world can overcome dictatorships. To the authors, the title character Keedle represented more than Hitler, but all dictators then and now.”
Zipes said, “I don’t think that my being Jewish accounts for my interest in fairy tales. My Jewishness makes me a bit meshuggah, and this is why I try to think out of the box and have developed a storytelling program for children without sanitizing the fairy tales. The best of folk and fairy tales have never been sanitized, and I use tales to tell so that children will be enabled to tell their own miraculous tales.”
“My Jewishness is complex,” said Carol, “because I am mixed-race Sephardic-Romani and Ashkenazi. One of one million reasons I love Jack Zipes and think his work is crucial is his lucid critique of the Disneyfication of fairy tales and folklore.”
Resurrecting Dead Fairy Tales starts at 5pm on Feb. 17 and is intended for older youth and adult audiences. On the day and time, click here for link to watch.
Taylor Pardell as Gretel and Pascale Spinney as Hansel in Vancouver Opera’s adaptation of the classic fairy tale. (photo by Emily Cooper)
While Vancouver Opera is presenting the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel Nov. 24-Dec. 11, cast member Leah Giselle Field is living one of her dreams.
Field first moved to Vancouver from Calgary – where her parents had moved from Montreal the year before she was born – for an undergraduate degree in opera at the University of British Columbia. “I left for a two-year master’s program in Ontario and then came back for my doctorate,” she told the Independent. “I came back to Vancouver several times during those years away, so I feel like I’ve been a Vancouver resident for the last 14 years.”
In fact, her connection to Vancouver goes back even further.
“Vancouver has always felt a little bit like home,” she said. “After the war, surviving members of my maternal grandfather’s family moved to Canada. My grandparents settled in Montreal, and my grandfather’s sisters settled in Toronto and Vancouver…. Growing up in Calgary, my family would take road trips to Vancouver over spring break and in the summers, and the time we spent with my great-aunt and my mother’s cousins’ families was formative. Friends of theirs have been part of family events and celebrations for decades, and it’s always fun to catch up during holidays. I’ve been part of the Congregation Beth Israel High Holiday Choir for the past few years and enjoy catching up with my BI family each fall.”
Her professional experience includes appearing “in the title roles of Carmen and Julius Caesar, and as Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro, Suzuki in Madama Butterfly, the Principessa in Suor Angelica, and Jennie in Maurice Sendak and Oliver Knussen’s Higglety Pigglety Pop!” notes her bio. “She is a past winner in the Western Canada District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and a 2015 semi-finalist in the Marcello Giordani Foundation International Vocal Competition.”
In Hansel and Gretel, Field, who is a mezzo-soprano, plays Gertrude, the mother. All of the principal singers in the show, including Field, are 2016-2017 participants in Vancouver Opera’s Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program.
“My experience with Vancouver Opera so far has really been a dream come true,” Field said. “I still have moments of disbelief that I get to do this every day, that I have the opportunity to work and learn with such wonderful colleagues within an organization that treats its singers with so much respect. The eight of us in the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program [YAP] have become really dear friends – we had ‘YAPsgiving’ together last month (because Thanksgiving fell between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I brought matzah ball soup, round challah with raisins, apples and honey, and honey cake) – and our bass-baritone always says, ‘Goodnight, family,’ on his way out the door.
“Being part of this production of Hansel and Gretel has been amazing…. We have exciting, fresh perspectives from the director, conductor and designers to work with, the stage management team has been incredible, and the performers are so caring and supportive. It has been exciting every day – seeing the show come together is such a thrilling experience.”
Vancouver Opera is billing their Hansel and Gretel as a “family-friendly production” for ages 6-plus.
“There are all sorts of factors that make this production more family-friendly than our standard conception of ‘opera,’” explained Field. “First, the subject matter is familiar: anyone who has heard the Grimm story – about the brother and sister lost in the forest who find a house made of sweets and outsmart the witch who lives there – already knows the foundation of our story.
“We’re also performing an updated translation of the original libretto, so audiences will be hearing our story in English. [And] Hansel and Gretel is … an opera that involves child performers – we have a chorus of 14 children,” she said.
“Beyond the traditionally family-friendly elements of the opera, we have the most incredible design concept enhancing our production. This is a larger-than-life, technicolor world that brings to mind the dream world Maurice Sendak’s protagonist Max imagines in Where the Wild Things Are. This show is a co-production with the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, so costume pieces, the set, hand-held puppets and multi-operator puppet costumes help create this realm of ‘everyday spectacular.’ It’s such a visually rich presentation that audiences of any age will be engaged by the complete realm of story they see and hear.”
In addition, the new production has been shortened – it will run approximately two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission – and the “youthful cast of emerging opera stars” will be conducted by 24-year-old Scottish-born conductor Alexander Prior. The original score by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) has been adapted to suit the relatively small size of the venue – Vancouver Playhouse – and will be performed by “a 14-member ensemble of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, which includes strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, a saxophone and an electric guitar.”
While Field’s focus is classical music, she said she also has some musical theatre, folk, jazz and pop music in her repertoire.
“Some of the music I’ve performed most includes Yiddish songs I learned in elementary school,” she said. “Whenever I can fit it into a program, I try to include ‘Oyfn Pripetchik.’ That’s always been a special song to me. When we learned new songs in Yiddish class, I would sing them over the phone to my grandfather in Montreal. He’d always say, ‘That’s very nice, Ketzeleh,’ but when I sang ‘Oyfn Pripetchik’ to him, he sang along. We had a party for his 90th birthday in 2010, and he got up to sing ‘Oyfn Pripetchik’ again with me then. I’m sorry to say he’s declined significantly in the past few years, but we still manage a sing-along every now and then.”
“Oyfn Pripetchik” is a song about a rabbi teaching his students the alef-bet, and it was written by Mark Warshawsky (1848-1907). In addition to folk songs, Field said that, since elementary school, she has “been interested in music and art suppressed under Nazism.”
“My maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors and interwar European culture provides a fascinating snapshot of life and art amidst tragedy,” she explained. “Mary Castello, our pianist in the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program, and I are beginning to plan a recital of suppressed music for the new year and hope to present it across the country.
“Jewish-Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick was commissioned by the CBC to write a song cycle for the great Canadian singer, Maureen Forrester,” she continued. “He used the translated text of children’s poems salvaged from Terezin for his cycle ‘I Never Saw Another Butterfly,’ and I had the honor of performing ‘Narrative’ from this cycle with pianist Richard Epp for UBC’s honorary degree conferral ceremony for Elie Wiesel.”
In addition to the recital planned for next year, Field said, “I’m looking forward to Vancouver Opera’s festival in the spring, and getting to play the bad guy in a production of Puccini’s Suor Angelica in Ottawa in February.”
Books can take you to the most captivating places. Not always happy places, but places worth exploring, places where the people, environment, challenges and culture are different. A place you can have adventures, learn from what has happened to others or just escape from your daily routine, all for the relatively low price of a book. Oh, and maybe a cardboard box.
The beautifully and creatively illustrated What to do with a Box (Creative Editions, 2016) features the rhythmic writing of Jane Yolen and the inspired art of Chris Sheban. The book is a tribute to the power of the imagination – a way to impart to the younger set that fun doesn’t necessarily need batteries. It’s also a reminder to parents that expensive toys aren’t at the root of what makes playtime enjoyable, and they may even be enticed to join their kids in a cardboard box adventure – if they’re invited to come along, that is.
The writing is simple, as it is for most picture books. That box, “can be a library, palace, or nook,” or a place you can “invite your dolls to come in for tea”; it can be a racecar, a ship, and so much more. And the art by Sheban looks as if he took Yolen’s advice: “You can paint a landscape with sun, sand and sky or crayon an egret that’s flying right by.” It is described as cardboardesque and, indeed, it looks as if he drew the illustrations on different types of boxes.
For slightly older readers (or listeners), Richard Unger has written and illustrated a more traditional story with Chagallesque art, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah (Penguin Random House, 2016). It is a picture book, but with a substantive amount of text on each page. It, too, is beautifully and creatively put together, with most of the text printed on a plain page that includes a black-and-white sketch that doesn’t overlap it in any way, making the reading easier. More importantly, it leaves most of the colorful, vibrant and expressive artwork on the opposite page free from writing. At the end of the book is the brief story of Chanukah.
While set on the eve of Chanukah in the shtetl of Chelm, this tale bears a similar message to What to do with a Box: money isn’t everything. It adds to that the lesson of gratitude.
In the story, the mayor of Lublin gives the people of the Chelm “the biggest menorah” Yitzi has ever seen and the villagers are so grateful, they want to thank the mayor in a way that matches the grandeur of his gift. This being Chelm, the solution doesn’t come easily but, after a few failed efforts, they succeed in a heartwarming way.
* * *
For young adult readers, the stories are much more serious in both subject matter and tone.
Eva Wiseman’s Another Me (Tundra Books, 2016) is set in the mid-1300s in Strasbourg, France. It starts with the main character’s death at the hands of the men poisoning the town’s water – an act the Jews were accused of committing not only in Strasbourg, but other cities in Europe, as well. It was thought that poisoned water was causing the plague and, since fewer Jews were dying, the rumors began that they were causing the illness. In reality, Jews were also dying, but in fewer numbers because Jewish law required much more handwashing than was customary in medieval times.
Wiseman also elaborates upon less tangible Jewish beliefs in Another Me. When Natan, 17, dies, his story doesn’t end. He becomes an ibbur – his soul enters the body of another man; in this instance, that of Hans the draper.
Hans works for Wilhelm, with whose daughter, Elena, Natan has fallen in love. Natan has come to know all of these non-Jews from helping his father in the shmatte business. Wilhelm is one of the very few Strasbourgians who is not antisemitic. Hans is also a good person, though he is jealous of Elena’s affection for Natan. When Natan – to whom she’s attracted – becomes Hans – who she finds ugly – Elena struggles to see beyond the exterior.
While mostly told from Natan’s perspective, Wiseman also allows Elena to tell a substantial part of the story. It is sometimes hard as a reader to change gears, but the dual voices offer a deeper understanding of the situation of the Jews in the city (and beyond), and those who would help them. Being historical fiction, while Wiseman can play with magic, there is, sadly, no chance for a happy ending.
Magic – or, at least, ghosts – also informs the storytelling in Eugene Yelchin’s The Haunting of Falcon House (Henry Holt and Co., 2016).
Ostensibly, this book is a translation Yelchin has made from a bundle of decaying pages bound with twine that he came across as a schoolboy in Russia. He brought them with him when he immigrated to the United States, but let them sit for years. Apparently written and illustrated by “a young Russian nobleman, Prince Lev Lvov,” who was born in 1879, there were many pages missing or unreadable.
“I managed to establish a chronological order of the events and then divided them into chapters, matched the drawings to the chapters, and discarded those I could not match,” writes Yelchin in the translator’s note that begins the book. So “inwardly connected to the young prince” did Yelchin become, he writes, “I can’t be certain, but as I typed Prince Lev’s inner thoughts, I felt cool fingers firmly guiding mine across the keys.”
In the story, 12-year-old Lev’s hands are similarly guided by a mysterious force when he is drawing. Arriving at Falcon House from St. Petersburg to take his place as heir to his family’s estate, Lev – who bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather – dreams of being a hero and nobleman like his grandfather and preceding ancestors. But, with some mystical guidance from Falcon House’s resident ghost, Lev begins to understand that being nobility doesn’t necessarily mean being noble, and his family’s secrets, which are slowly revealed, make him rethink his aspirations.
The ghost, a scary aunt and the disturbing illustrations combine to good effect in The Haunting of Falcon House, even though the story takes a little too long to unfold. The detailed notes at the book’s end provide valuable historical context and add greatly to the reading experience.
Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose: A Novel of the Holocaust (Tor Teen, 2016) is also a retelling – an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. And, it is a reissue, having originally been published almost 15 years ago in a series created by Terri Windling, which comprised novels by various authors that reinterpreted classic fairy tales.
In Yolen’s reimagining, Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty) is Gemma, Rebecca’s grandmother. Unlike her cynical and competitive older sisters, Rebecca never tires of listening to Gemma’s version of the tale, which doesn’t quite match up with the traditional folktale. When Gemma dies, leaving behind a box containing a few documents and photos that don’t quite match up with what she has told her family about her history, Becca sets off to find the truth.
Her search – done in the days before Google – starts slowly, with the help of her editor, Stan, on whom she has a crush. It takes them from their hometown of Holyoke, Mass., to Oswego, N.Y., where refugees were sheltered at Fort Oswego: “Roosevelt made it a camp and, in August 1944, some 1,000 people were brought over and interned [there]. From Naples, Italy. Mostly Jews and about 100 Christians,” explains the reporter at the Palladium Times to Becca.
What she learns at Oswego leads her on a journey to Poland and to Chelmno. Of the more than 152,000 killed by gas (or shooting) at the Nazi extermination camp that was there, only seven Jewish men are known to have escaped. This allows Yolen to imagine that one woman survived the killing centre, which was established on an old estate in a forest clearing that had a schloss (castle, or manor house).
In Gemma’s cryptic telling of her survival, she is saved from the castle by a “prince,” who we find out was himself saved by partisans after his escape from Sachsenhausen concentration camp and then joined the resistance; in her story, briars take the place of barbed wire, the wicked fairy the Nazis. As Becca discovers the reality of her grandmother’s past and finds her own voice and identity through the journey, we also witness Poles’ difficulties in dealing with what took place during the Holocaust and we meet others – including Gemma’s prince – who are still trying to heal from the destruction the Nazis’ wrought.
Interweaving the “real” story with Gemma’s fairy tale is very effective at building the anticipation and, once Becca arrives in Poland, Briar Rose is a page-turner. One almost doesn’t realize how much they’re learning while they’re reading. Almost.
You have to speak more than one language if you want to read all of the articles on Vancouver photographer and Pop Surrealist Dina Goldstein’s art. English, of course, but also French, Italian, Spanish and Greek, for starters. Among other places, her work has been exhibited in Canada, of course, but also Poland, India, Colombia and, most recently, Holland.
She attended the Oct. 11 opening of In the Dollhouse at Rize Gallery in Amsterdam. “I try to get to all of my openings,” she told the Independent in an email interview. “Traveling and experiencing other cultures is the perk of being an artist. I enjoy being at the exhibition in person and seeing the reactions to my work. The galleries also like it when the artist is there to offer more perspective.”
In the Dollhouse is the second of three large-scale photographic series that Goldstein has created. The other two are Fallen Princesses and Gods of Suburbia. All three have been, or are being, exhibited in various places. About whether galleries pay artists to display their work, Goldstein explained, “The agreements vary from gallery to gallery, sales from the show are split between the gallery and the artist. There are some festivals that cover travel and accommodation in order for the artist to attend. I currently produce my own large-scale projects with the help of print sales and grant awards. These are print sales of my limited edition pieces from Fallen Princesses, In the Dollhouse and the Gods of Suburbia series (displayed on LED light panels).
“There are also art competitions that award cash prizes. This was the case for me when I won the Prix Virginia in 2014 and was gifted 10,000 euros.”
Goldstein has been a photographer for 25 years. “I started out quite young and worked very hard in my 20s and 30s to create a career for myself,” she said. “I was a photojournalist and traveled to war-torn regions. I freelanced, shooting covers and feature stories for magazines. (I was a staff photographer at the Jewish Western Bulletin.) I also photographed some cheeky ads with some brilliant art directors. People within the Vancouver Jewish community will remember me photographing weddings and bar mitzvahs; alongside, I created my own projects. Usually concentrated on the study of sub-cultures within society, I termed the work ‘photoanthropology.’ These images were documentary, photojournalistic.
“In 2009, I released my tableau series Fallen Princesses, which was an internet success and brought recognition to my personal work. I went on to realize more ambitious projects like In the Dollhouse in 2012, and Gods of Suburbia in 2014. I am now fully concentrated on producing my own large-scale conceptual series and have become a full-time artist.
“Storytelling has always been central in all of my work past and present,” she continued. “Documentary photography allowed me to create and share the stories of Palestinians in Gaza, gamblers at the racetrack, East Indian blueberry farmers in B.C., dog show dogs, bodybuilding state championships and teenagers dirty dancing at a bar mitzvah.”
Readers can see many of those images at dinagoldstein.com. They can also see images of her three large-scale series, all of which challenge viewers to question their beliefs, some of which were instilled in childhood. Is there an ideal body, an ideal marriage, an ideal anything? Can we rest assured that good ultimately prevails and evil is punished?
“Much of my work investigates the myth of perfection and the collective perception influenced by pop culture,” said Goldstein. “Western society today is influenced by pop culture, which informs us how to look, what to like, what to buy. Most people don’t even realize the effects of the unconscious collective that drives us to behave in certain ways. Perfection is not stable or sustainable in nature and in life. Also, there is an individual perspective about what is ‘good’ or ‘perfect.’ This is mainly the reason that I work with archetypes and stereotypes to relay my messages and offer some social critique. By twisting the storylines of beloved characters, I am able to provide some insight into the human condition, and expose the many flaws in the nature of humankind.”
Fallen Princesses takes the Disney version of 10 fairy-tale women, including Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine and others, and “creates metaphor out of the myths of fairy tales, forcing the viewer to contemplate real life: failed dreams, addiction, obesity, cancer, the extinction of indigenous culture, pollution, war and the fallacy of chasing eternal youth,” reads the description on Goldstein’s website. Goldstein’s Snowy, for example, is pictured in an unkempt living room, holding two kids in her arms, with one child pulling on her skirt and yet another playing on the floor, where a dog eats potato chips that her beer-drinking, TV-watching prince has let fall.
In the Dollhouse also features an iconic couple long into their marriage: Barbie and Ken. In Goldstein’s version, Ken begins to understand and accept his homosexuality, and he seems to flourish as the narrative progresses, while Barbie “breaks down and confronts her own value and fleeting relevance.”
But why doesn’t Barbie take her dream car and leave Ken? And the princesses? Granted they likely haven’t been taught the life skills needed to deal with illness, raising a family, etc., but do they just accept their unhappily ever after, or do they rail against it? Are they victims or survivors, both or neither?
“Throughout history, the focus in storytelling has been on men and their outlook of this world,” said Goldstein. “Women’s desires and interests have mostly been marginalized. I feel lucky to live in a free Western society where women’s roles are now more prominent. As a woman experiencing this transformation, I take full advantage by creating art that fully expresses my thoughts and opinions. I create art with fictional characters that has elements of real life. What you see within a work is a moment in time (within the fictional life or these fictional characters). As Barry Dumka pointed out in his essay, yes,
Barbie has lost her head, but she is Barbie and that head can pop right back on. Unfortunately, humans don’t have that luxury. In my tableau, the princesses are thrust into everyday life within realistic environments. They, too, have to figure out how to function and thrive within a complex world.”
Goldstein’s website is fascinating. Not only is her artwork displayed there and her many interviews, but she has a section called Dig Deeper. There, visitors can spend hours reading intelligent, thoughtful analyses of her work, including the aforementioned essay by Dumka.
Despite the grim situation of the princesses, of Barbie, there is humor in Goldstein’s work – there’s something sardonic about seeing Ariel, the Little Mermaid, in an aquarium, Belle of Beauty and the Beast undergoing plastic surgery, or Ken wearing Barbie’s high heels, for example. In Gods of Suburbia, she portrays Satan as a tow-truck operator, Darwin is watching people play the slots at a casino, and Buddha is shopping at Wholey Foods.
“I try to keep everything in perspective,” said Goldstein. “Let’s face it, life can get overwhelming and too serious. I use humor to cope with all that the world throws at me. Also to create conversation about modern society and how we perceive it. I utilize satire, which is intelligent ridicule, and irony, because it creates a situation that differs radically from what is actually the case.”
In a Times of Israel interview, when asked if there was a particular God of Suburbia that moved her most, Goldstein said Ganesha.
“The Ganesha piece was inspired by personal memories,” she told the Independent. “My family moved from Israel to Canada in 1976. At that time, Vancouver was a small town and it had not yet experienced the mass Asian population that you see today. My first few years here were very difficult and, as a young child, it was hard to comprehend.
“Learning a new language whilst dealing with schoolyard bullies. Even in high school, and after many years of integration, I felt different somehow. Most of my family remained in Israel, so we would visit every couple of years for the whole summer. There, I got recharged with chutzpah and the realities of war. So, I became an Israeli/Canadian hybrid. Israeli in many ways and not the typical Canadian. However, these days I know that I’m fully Canadianized because I listen to the CBC radio all day!
“Ganesha is naturally odd, as he has an elephant head and a boy’s body. He is different because of his appearance (I didn’t have that problem) but also because of his unique culture. He is judged for how he dresses, what he eats and even what he believes in. He faces the same cruelty that I encountered in elementary school.”
While all of Goldstein’s art can be seen on her website, there is nothing that can compare to seeing it in person. Gods of Suburbia will travel to Montreal in February to be shown by Art Souterrain. And there also will be at least one local opportunity to see the exhibit next year.
“The Diamond Foundation has generously donated the whole Gods of Suburbia show to appear at the Capture Festival [in April],” said Goldstein. “The exhibition will take place at a new gallery on East 6th Avenue in Vancouver called SOMA.”