to Final Scene * Program order
& news account
* Notes on the music *
Description by director Carl Thomsen *
& PHOTOS FROM JANUARY 2001 PRODUCTION (Fuller School Theater, Gloucester
Lighting: Nancy Goldstein * Costumes: Anna Vojtech & Kim Smith * Photos by Lee Moss & Thomas Nola-Rion * Projectionist: Bruce Bemis
Introduction (Synopsis by Carl Thomsen) The scenes that follow are like a paintings in a gallery, the gallery of Fitz Hugh Lane's life and times. There is no start-to-finish story line. Each scene stands by itself and reveals its very own world just as Lane revealed his world to us through his paintings. Some scenes were inspired by actual paintings. Others were taken from real events in his life. Still others were imagined as possible experiences the artist may have had as his spiritual vision grew into, matured with, and ultimately transcended his physical disability. And it is this transcendent quality of Lane's vision that is here celebrated and brought to life again. It is his true gift to us. Note: Nathaniel Rogers Lane was born in 1804. Early in life, he became crippled, probably from polio. He changed his name to Fitz Hugh at a young age. He died in 1865.
Dancers (in order of appearance): Cameron Frithson, Martin Ray, Sarah Happel, Olivia Hauk, Gwen Martin, Haley Strader, Dawn Pratson, Nick Rapoli, Carl Thomsen, Jennifer Heney, Patricia Kane, Elizabeth Silviera, Molly Booth, Anna Shoub,Lou Cannon, Julianna McGovern, Elizabeth McCarthy, Cynthia Trainor, Cheryl Yates, Rachel Axelrod, Peter Berkrot, Charlee Biancini, Karen Lundh, Louise Marsh, Dave Montgomery, Clare Pleuler, Suellen Wedmore, Shira Karpo
Scene 1 On the Wharf (c. 1816) On his way to work, Jonathan Dennison Lane brings his son, Nat, to sit on a wharf. From this vantage, Nat can see and draw the working harbor with its many vessels and activities. Workmen arrive and try to get some help from the boys, with mixed success. One boy, William, teases Nat. Nat's brother, Edward, tries to defend his sibling. William finally sees Nat's drawings and is amazed. Suddenly, news arrives of a ship that has gone down, the Brutus, off Cape Cod. William learns his father may be lost. The men pledge to William, "Now every Gloucester man will be your father. . ." Both grief and empathy are familiar emotions to those who live in a fishing town.
"Our women to the bitter wind of grief... exposed." -- MCW
Scene 2 In the Garden Lane recollects watching his mother work with other women in her garden, and the magnificent summers of his youth. A newly married woman is pregnant and dreamy, and is teased by the others. The second woman romanticizes about the beauty around her. The third woman is earthy and practical. All enjoy the luxurious, pastoral summer that envelopes them.
"All it took to seal her fate: One fine nosegay for the bait!" -- MCW
Scene 3 At the Tidal Pool / Growth of Vision Time folds in on itself as we see Lane both as a sensitive boy (seeing his sister Sarah's face reflected in a tide pool), and later in life, as the mature artist whose soul has become the source of the full bodied, richness in his art. All this, in stark contrast to his crippled, physical body.
summer my soul came to perceive the field of light
Scene 4 Vessels Ships move like dancers across the rippling canvas of the harbor waters. The wind, like subtle music, coaxes the vessels into motion and eases them at their moorings.
|Scene 5 Front St., Gloucester 1864 In the 1860's, the City of Gloucester is a town full of hope and promise and, of course, all the foibles of a city. The townspeople are feeling the full flush of a strong economy. Everyone has his place in society. There is so much bustling energy in town that even the buildings have personality.|
The Great Fire One feeezing night, Andrew Elwell puts his young daughter to sleep. Later, coal embers spill from his stove and the house catches fire. The flames consume his home and move quickly to the next, and the next...
the woodstove's grate embers shoot out
Quickly all of Front St. is in flames. Bucket brigades battle the bitter cold and the searing flames. Houses are blown up to provide fire breaks. Finally help arrives from Salem and blessed rain begins to fall, dousing the flames. Most of downtown has been destroyed. A bright future seems to go up in smoke.
tranquil earth receives the setting sun's corona.
light radiating silver
up Squam River from this pasture
reflections of trees in river,
this riverbend, looking up Squam River
have come to this peaceful confluence of waters --
© 2001 Maryclaire Wellinger
Scene 6 Lane's Soliloquy Out of the ashes of tragedy and loss rises Lane's Spirit. Even as his aged body deteriorates, his artistic Soul soars ahead into some of his most sublime work. He gives in to the pull of his Soul, merging with the Divine Light from which came his Vision. The body dies; the Vision lives on.
Music © 2000 Prism Music
Christopher Fitzpatrick tenor
Waves of Light Lane the man is gone. The Encompassing Light -- once his Vision -- flows toward its source like ocean waves to the shore.
of light, seamless mantle,
Enlightenment The Light flows outward again, bringing its spiritual blessings to the entire world. All beings are baptized and reborn.
Carl Thomsen and I have embarked on an ambitious performance project about the 19th century Gloucester Luminist painter Fitz Hugh Lane. We have recruited poet Maryclaire Wellinger to not only write the libretto, but give the audience an introduction to the artist's life and work. The performance will involve dancers, guitar, an exquisite vocal ensemble and projected images. The more I get into the material, the further it reaches. Here is a man crippled by polio who evolves into a transcendent artist, teaching us all to see the sublime and the subtle in ways that our material striving often obscures. Though the score I have writtten is operatic, I seek to communicate the character of this man and those around him in a way that most should find accessible -- something akin Amahl and the Night Visitors. Maryclaire has researched the period and region extensively; she is not only a painter herself, she has crewed historic sailing vessels. I would go as far as to place her poetry for this piece on a level with that of Dylan Thomas.
Photo of Monica Cirrito & Jeffry Steele by Thom Nola-Rion
When Carl and I first met to discuss developing a work on Fitz Hugh Lane -- just over a year ago -- he cited two pieces I had already recorded that he felt lent themselves best to the subject: "Stream at Sunrise" and "Sunset Reverie" from Voice of Creation. The latter comprised sparse chords through heavy reverb with a very long decay, and he wondered how we might recreate that effect in performance. Agreeing that electronic effects or synthesizers were not appropriate for music about a nineteenth century painter, he suggested a choir. Carl then approached choir director Gretchen Longwell-Cooley, who met with me to look over my my initial ideas and is to be credited with the pivotal suggestion that I seek out a libretto -- one that stands on its own as a literary work. I then remembered that Marblehead poet Maryclaire Wellinger -- inspired by our show Clear Away -- had, not long before, inquired about the possibility of my setting her poetry to music. I counter-proposed that she write new poetry especially for our piece and the starting gate opened on the great relay-race that -- by the finish-line some seven months later -- was the completed Gift of Vision.
"Stream at Sunrise" -- in Carl's mind at least -- had nothing to do with streams but, rather, large sailing ships "swaying at their moorings." I wrote a short choral introduction and we had our "Vessels" movement in short order. At the time of that first development meeting, I had just written a guitar piece titled "Heart Seeking" that was intended as a companion to "Stream at Sunrise" -- them both being in a special tuning of the guitar strings known as DADGAD. We quickly determined that this new piece would make a good finale, and that much of the material for the work as a whole could be based on its themes. ["Stream at Sunrise", on the other hand, had a certain completeness unto itself that did not compel me to quote it elsewhere]. And so A Gift of Vision opens with the Finale's "rondo" tune: "Choir of rocks..." heard once through. It's first half is intoned in the ensuing "Skipping stones", the introduction to the Garden Scene, and in the ["Loom of light..."] transition between "Waves of Light" and the Finale. One other complete rendition of the rondo theme is also heard in the guitar part of Garden Scene [at "My Summer is one fine nosegay..."]. The tune's first three notes [mi-re-fa] are quoted in the first two tenor arias [at "...to the south horizon. I'll learn to strike the line..."], toward the end of the Wharf Scene ["You're on my watch now William..."] and in the Garden Scene ["Tell us when!" as well as in the passage for guitar solo].
The Garden Scene accompaniment is derived from the conclusion of the first tenor aria. The "refrain" of the former ["Hops and barley" and "Fair Cape Ann"] -- which is later recalled in the Waltz of the "Cityscape" -- was derived from a harmonic progression introduced in the Wharf Scene ["See them sailing, sailing out to sea." and later at "Our women will be weeping with this news."].
The chord progression introducing the Finale is foreshadowed in the (immediately preceding) "Waves of Light" section -- which is also where I fulfilled, through the use of voices, Carl's request for a "reverb decay" effect. The minor key tune from the Finale ["Sky's flowing confluence of light and space..."] is prominent in the Fire Scene ["At the rear of Sawyer's block..." and "Cascading flames..."], and its first four notes [la-la-ti-do'] pepper the Finale through its conclusion -- echoed in the rhythm of the final words ["...appears my vision"].
As the tenor "Soliloquy" is intended as a summation of Lane's life, it naturally quotes other parts of the score: from"Tidal Pool" -- the 5/8 melody in the voice and then in the guitar; from the Garden Scene [at "Mirrored reflections of trees in river" and elsewhere] and from the "Shimmering water" intro [at "To this peaceful confluence I have come."]. The opening chord of "Waves of Light" -- which also functions as the final chord to this soliloquy -- is foreshadowed here as well.
The DADGAD tuning generated its own unique harmonic vocabulary which, along with practical considerations of not wanting to switch guitars or tunings during a performance, prompted me to compose the entire hour's worth of music within it. Though I might have included other instruments -- as I did in Clear Away -- I wanted to see what could be done with just this heretofore-unknown ensemble of guitar with five voices. At no point did my ears tell me to put a flute here or a cello there (much as the singers might have appreciated more instruments to cue off of). It is extremely challenging music to perform, requiring great self-sufficiency on each vocalist's part -- not unlike being an instrumentalist in a chamber ensemble.
The music wouldn't have come out anywhere near as well without Maryclaire's finely crafted and researched texts. Being caught between her poetic needs and Carl's choreographic needs, while holding the music to my own standards, required diplomacy and compositional skill in equal amounts. I hope the result inspires you as much as we three inspired each other. All of the musicians in this performance live in either Gloucester or Rockport, as do most of the dancers. I take pride in what our community can produce and am grateful once again for the spirit in our midst that can bring to life a show such as Gift of Vision.
Jeffry Steele, January 2001
photo of Jeffry with Maryclaire Wellinger by Thom Nola-Rion
As a painter, poet, and sailor of antique sailing vessels, I was thrilled with Jeffry's and Carl's proposal, the Gift of Vision project. Last February, on gray days I lingered at the Cape Ann Historical Museum. Lane's luminous harborscapes and seascapes are masterpieces, the painterly counterpart to Thoreau's and Emerson's transcendental poetry and prose. I fell in love with Fitz Hugh Lane, and immersed myself in his paintings which comprised the points of my compass directing me to where I found glimpses of his artistic vision "there on the invisible horizon-breath/ where sea is woven to sky in one seamless mantle." I felt honored to work with Jeffry and Carl, and challenged – the alchemical nature of artistic collaboration – how to proceed? Jeffry had begun to compose the music [Choir of Rocks, Vessels, and the Finale, Waves of Light] and I would have to "hear" through my muse the words to complement the music's complex moods, and tell the story of Lanes's life and work. Another challenge – to write first the poetry which would move Jeffry's soul in such a way that he could imagine its music. I would need to create truthful early 19th century "Cape Ann speech", to build a vocabulary from words spoken by sailmakers, riggers, farmers, mariners and fishermen's wives, to create a very high level of poetic language, a singing language -- strong and graceful -- to build a vessel of words sound enough to carry our rich cargo of dance, music, and voice. The Libretto's fulcrum is Jeffry's guitar music powered by Carl's choreography --the gesture, the pause, the leap, the reach. The rhythm of the poetry is the drumming of the dancers' feet on the bare earth-- this patch of "Fair Cape Ann" earth with its glacial moraines, perched boulders and serpent kames-- beneath what poet Charles Olsen calls "the sky of Gloucester, perfect bowl of land and sea." Maryclaire Wellinger January 15, 2001
"A Gift of Vision: The life and work of Fitz Hugh Lane"
and Choreographed by Carl Thomsen
Original Music by Jeffry H. Steele
Libretto by Maryclaire Wellinger
GLOUCESTER LEGENDS presents Gift of Vision The Life and Work of Fitz Hugh Lane
Legends Dance Company Jan 19-21, 26-28, 2001 Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM. Sundays at 3 PM. Fuller School Theater Blackburn Circle, Route 128, Gloucester Adults - $12. Seniors and children (under 16) - $10
Renowned Gloucester Artist Fitz Hugh Lane Celebrated in Music and Dance Last year Gloucester once again honored the 10,000 men who gave their lives at sea. This month, the new year's spotlight shines on another side of the city---its arts heritage, as a show about maritime painter Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865) opens. When a city honors its heroes and heroines, it tells itself and the world what it is that it holds most dear. On January 19-21 and 26-28, Gloucester Legends will present Legends Dance Company in a new, multi-media theater production: Gift of Vision, The Life and Work of Fitz Hugh Lane. Directed and choreographed by Carl Thomsen with an original musical score by Jeffry H. Steele, both of Gloucester, the production includes dance, singing, and visual projection. Poetry is by Maryclaire Wellinger. The show has over 40 performers.
Fitz Hugh Lane was born in Gloucester in 1804. He was crippled by childhood polio and used crutches throughout his life. On the strength of innate drawing ability, he was admitted in 1832 as an apprentice draftsman with William S. Pendleton's lithography firm in Boston, where he became a master lithographer and printmaker. Lane produced his first oil paintings in 1840. The man who would become the most famous of the Luminist painters returned to Gloucester in 1848 at age 44, and painted hundreds of harborscapes, landscapes, and seascapes of Gloucester, Cape Ann, and the New England coast. Like literary contemporaries Emerson and Thoreau, Lane addressed the transcendental theme of the sublime in nature--mirrored reflections in still waters, vast light-filled sky space painted in brilliant hues at sunset. It was during the period 1850 - 1865 that Lane did his most sublime work; these images reach a spiritual dimension. They contain a peace and harmony that speaks of a deepening vision, a vision leading beyond the normal, approaching the divine, and yet never violating what is seen with the eyes. Although faithful to Nature, Lane's later paintings are a kind of visual poetry that could be said to speak of God. "Gift of Vision is like walking through a museum gallery," explains director Carl Thomsen. "Only, instead of paintings, there is dancing and music accompanied by projected images." (These were compiled and digitally rendered by film artist Bruce Bemis.) The Cape Ann Historical Museum--which boasts the world's largest Lane collection in the artist's hometown--generously provided access to Lane images and granted permission to use them in performance. Thomsen says that the theater is transformed into a living gallery as performers merge with paintings that have "come alive." While the scenes are not connected by a story line, neither are they abstract. For example, in one scene men and boys work and play along the waterfront which gives way to three women in a garden. As the show moves from scene to scene (as from painting to painting), the audience gathers impressions of Lane's life and growing artistic abilities.
Dance choreographer Carl Thomsen, who last year produced the show Clear Away: A Fisherman's Farewell, is always careful to give his audience enough information to know what is happening. He uses movement styles from pantomime to modern and ballet in a seamless continuum: "I considered Lane's painting technique of moving from foreground to background in one sweep of color." Jeffry Steele's musical composition includes classical guitar with a vocal ensemble comprised of North Shore singers. Steele captures the dignity and classicism of Lane's aesthetic in an operatic style. Maryclaire Wellinger's poetry has a strong narrative structure; her language is lyrical yet uses the earthy vocabulary of the Cape Ann mariner. Metaphor and symbolism emerge from the sea. As Lane says in his soliloquy: ". . .as father's sails are cut out, cloth by cloth, I'll come to know the breadth, know the depth, of Gloucester's canvas, and Fair Cape Ann's." Befitting a Luminist painter, for whom the use of light was of utmost importance, Thomsen is working with award-winning lighting designer Nancy Goldstein. By her manipulation, dancers emerge from projected paintings; the reflections of tidal pools ripple on the faces of children; the City of Gloucester furiously burns to the ground one frigid night in 1864; spiritual light cascades from heaven in the awe-inspiring finale. Gloucester Legends, Inc., is a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring history to life through the arts. They are committed to keeping Gloucester's view of its own history diverse. In addition to Legends Dance Company, they offer Legends School Program, an in-school residency series across the North Shore. Their website is gloucesterlegends.org. This program is supported in part by a grant from the Gloucester Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency. Gift of Vision has appeal for all ages, and there are two Sunday matinees at 3 PM (Jan. 21 and 28) to encourage children and families to attend. Friday and Saturday performances (Jan. 19-20, 26-27) are at 7:30 PM. Both performance weekends take place at the Fuller School Theater (Route 128 and Blackburn Circle in Gloucester). Tickets for Gift of Vision are on sale at Toad Hall Bookstore, The Bookstore, Gloucester Music, and Dancers Courageous Studio.
For information call( 978) 283-2525 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
EARLIER DESCRIPTION [2/4/2000]:
Gloucester Legends, Inc. (known for the dance/drama "Clear Away") is excited to announce the creation of a new evening length theater piece, "A Gift of Vision: The life and work of Fitz Hugh Lane." The multi-media work, to premier in the Fall of 2000, celebrates the artist's vision of his time, of Gloucester, of the sea, and of the Divine.
In "A Gift of Vision", director/choreographer Carl Thomsen portray's the visual poetry of Lane's work in "living color" with actors and dancers emerging from, and superimposed upon projected images from real locations around Cape Ann and Lane's paintings of those places. The musical accompaniment, by Jeffry H. Steele, is scored for chamber chorus (performed by North Shore singers) with classical guitar [played by the composer]. The libretto is written by Marblehead poet, Maryclaire Wellinger. The dramatic theme follows Lane's life and work as he passes from childhood to manhood and finally to mastery of his art.
Cape Ann has long enjoyed a reputation of having some of the most sublime light in the world, a fact that has drawn many artists to our shores. Lane stands above all others who have attempted to render this unique light. Today, we can imagine the thin man with crutches (he had polio as a child in the early 1800's), being carried from place to place by his friend J. Stevens to paint and repaint the scenes he had known from childhood.
Lane's vision is a gift to the city of Gloucester, a hard working, pragmatic town. Gloucester is a town in transition. We are in a process of "revisioning" the city, of redefining ourselves culturally and economically. By theatrical recreations of historical people and events such as "A Gift of Vision", Gloucester Legends reflects to the town what is valuable from the past. It is the use of art in bringing alive the town's greatest asset, the legacy of our ancestors. In this way, we may develop a clearer vision of who we are and who we want to be in the new millennium.
Gloucester, Lane made his living in Boston as a lithographer. Returning to his
home town in his later years he plied himself to his greatest love, painting.
He became known as the greatest proponent of Ďluminism', endlessly exploring the
contemporary idea that one can see the supreme work of God by studying Nature. It was during the years 1850 - 1863 that he did his most sublime work; the images from this period reach beyond themselves into another dimension. They contain a certain
peace and harmony that speaks of a deepening, spiritual vision. Yet, it is a vision that maintains resemblance to what is seen with the eyes.
As you look at Lane's paintings, they suggest movement. He shows us the bustling movements of a city in an economic boom in the early 1800's. Children play on the rocks. Workers mend nets, scrape boats, fish and tend fires along the waterfront. Vessels pass quietly across the still water of the harbor or race before a storm. Across the middle ground, the city punctuates itself like a drum beat. Above it all rises a sublime sky, a dramatic sky, a still sky, or a wind swept sky circling like a whirlpool around the sun.
And then, like a religious revelation, appears the source of light in his paintings. Be it the moon or the sun, light suffuses the sky, tumbling down upon the earth like a sacrament. All things great and small bathe in and are baptized by it.
And suddenly, you realize, this is not just a painting. This is where you live. This is your own town, your harbor, your cove, your boatyard, resurrected from the mundane by Lane's vision. Enabling us to see the poetic in the common, his art tranforms our lives.
All this is "A Gift of Vision": a theatrical celebration of Lane -- artistic visionary of Cape Ann -- with the resourcefulness, industry, and artistry of her people, and, ultimately, with that wondrous light in which we all bathe.
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