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Dancer Muriel Maffre Brings The Soldier’s Tale to Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre

Muriel Maffre as the Daughter of the King in The Soldier's Tale at Aurora Theatre

Muriel Maffre as the Daughter of the King in The Soldier's Tale

During her 17 years as Principal Dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, French-born Muriel Maffre gained a reputation for technical, as well as dramatic, brilliance. In such roles as the raging Carabosse and the gentle Lilac Fairy, both of Sleeping Beauty, she captivated audiences and critics alike with the specificity, immediacy and sheer intensity of her characterizations. I always said that when she grew tired of dancing, she could feel free to pursue a full-time career in the theatre.

Imagine my delight, then, to hear that Ms. Maffre (pronounced MAHF-re, with silent “e”) is appearing in – and co-directing — a piece at Berkeley’s eclectic Aurora Theatre Company. The Soldier’s Tale is an amalgam of live music, acting, dancing and puppetry that defies easy categorization.

The story of a Russian soldier who trades his fiddle for a book that predicts the future, the work was composed by Igor Stravinsky, with librettist C.F. Ramuz, in 1917. More than 90 years later — and five years after first staging the piece for an Orcas Island music festival — Ms. Maffre felt inspired to re-imagine it….

“The story, the music and the themes they tackle [were] touching to me,” writes Ms. Maffre via e-mail. “I fell in love with the timeless…quality of the story…and the universal Faustian themes of seduction and loss.”

In the Aurora Theatre production, Ms. Maffre dances the role of the Daughter of the King, while L. Peter Callender narrates and Joan Mankin brings The Devil to life. The music, which occurs intermittently, is provided by avant-garde chamber group Earplay. A life-size puppet manipulated by Ms. Maffre, is the Soldier. In this incarnation, the Tale is told from the point of view of the puppet.

“From the start, the idea was to insert men into the world of the puppet and not the other way around,” confides Ms. Maffre. “Hence the dramatic environment for this production is the reality of the puppet: a world of wood, papier maché, cloth, and paint. Much of the treatment is inspired from the work of [Expressionist artist Marc] Chagall, particularly his paintings and the way he creates narratives, portrays expressive characters, manipulates scale, color, light and shadow.”

The result is a captivating and poignant piece that demands and deserves a thoroughgoing commitment on the part of the viewer. The Soldier’s Tale runs through December 18.