Jewish Journal

A Biblical ‘Song’ and Dance

by Naomi Pfefferman

Posted on Jun. 5, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Two years ago, Aileen Passloff stumbled across a long-lost rehearsal tape from her 1967 dance/opera, "The Song of Songs," inspired by the Bible's "Song of Solomon." The New York choreographer promptly telephoned her friend, Deborah Lawlor, co-founder of Hollywood's Fountain Theatre, who had performed in the lyrically erotic show.

"This music had lived so vividly in our hearts all these years ... [but] having never been written down, [it] had subsequently been lost," Lawlor, 63, said. When Passloff called, they decided to restore the tape digitallly to give the music "a new production and a new life."

Al Carmines' lush score provides the backdrop for "The Song of Songs," now at the Fountain, in which five dancers pair off while singers chant biblical text. Its creators hope to convey the essence of the ancient poetry, which describes God's love for the Israelites as the passion between a man and a woman. "The chief metaphor is that of a woman's body as a garden," Passloff, 71, said. "It's unexpected stuff for the Bible."

The acclaimed choreographer -- the granddaughter of Russian Jews -- was herself surprised by the sensual text when her first boyfriend gave her a copy in high school. Years later, she jumped at the chance to turn "Song" into dance at Carmine's Judson Memorial Church, a Greenwich Village artist's hangout.

While recreating the work in Hollywood a quarter century later, Passloff didn't remember a single step of the original. But the music she had discovered on that dusty reel-to-reel tape helped her remain true to its romantic spirit, she said. If she and Lawlor relied on musical archeology to revive the piece, they feel it's as relevant post-Sept. 11 as it was in '67.

"There's so much ugliness in the world, it's important to think about the qualities that make us human rather than beasts," Lawlor told The Journal.

"At a time when it's scary to be vulnerable, the 'Song' is about daring to open up and to love," Passloff said.

The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 663-1525.

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