[Marxism] More on Austin Scarlett

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 14 20:01:13 MDT 2010

(He did the costume design for this.)

NY Times June 11, 2010
A Slave Escapes, a Story Unfolds

RIVERSIDE, Conn. — “Is Greenwich ready for bestiality?” a well-dressed 
woman said during the intermission of Hans Werner Henze’s “El Cimarrón” 
(“The Runaway Slave”), which opened on Thursday evening at the Theater 
at St. Catherine of Siena in the Riverside section of Greenwich.

She was referring to indecent acts committed by Esteban Montejo, the 
real-life slave of the title, who lived alone in the forest for years 
after escaping the Cuban sugar plantation where he was born in 1860. 
Bestiality aside, a Catholic church in this leafy hedge-fund homeland 
might seem an unlikely place to stage a rare revival of Mr. Henze’s 
anti-priesthood, anti-American, anti-capitalist ode, the major event of 
this year’s Greenwich Music Festival.

But the enthusiastic reception awarded Ted Huffman’s excellent new 
production of the work demonstrated the open-minded attitude and 
artistic freedom often denied Mr. Henze, 83 — still an active composer 
and member of the Communist Party in Italy, where he has lived for more 
than 50 years. His left-wing politics and homosexuality made life 
difficult in Germany, his native country. His music also initially 
received a hostile welcome, deemed too expressive for the postwar 
avant-garde but too thorny for general consumption.

Mr. Henze wrote “El Cimarrón,” a striking musical theater work, in 1970 
while living in Cuba. It is based on the “Autobiography of a Runaway 
Slave” by Miguel Barnet, who conducted extensive interviews with 
Montejo. After hiding in the forest, Montejo fought in the Cuban War of 
Independence in the late 1890s, saw the transition to Castro’s 
government and died at 113 in 1973.

Mr. Henze called the score “a recital for four musicians:” a baritone 
represents the title character, accompanied by guitar, flute and 
percussion. The guitarist Daniel Lippel, the flutist Claire Chase and 
the percussionist Nathan Davis — all members of the estimable 
International Contemporary Ensemble — were the stellar instrumentalists 
here, conducted in a bristling performance by Robert Ainsley.

All four performers play percussion in this eclectic score. It features 
Western, Asian and Caribbean instruments and weaves snippets of popular 
song into a colorful tapestry that vividly illustrates the work’s 15 
short scenes, which relay different segments of Montejo’s life in the 
broader context of Cuban history.

The baritone Eugene Perry (using the English version by Christopher 
Keene) offered a theatrically gripping portrayal of the runaway slave, 
whose chromatic vocal line is often in the half-spoken, half-sung 
sprechstimme style and ranges from very low notes to high falsetto. Mr. 
Perry conveyed the full emotional scope of the work, poignantly 
expressive while recalling the abuse of slaves, funny while describing 
his forest life and womanizing, and feisty when describing the Cuban 

There were no props or scenery on the simple black stage, with a battery 
of percussion instruments arrayed against the back wall. Four dancers 
wearing evocative costumes by Austin Scarlett — two men, Manelich 
Minniefee and Andrew Murdock; a woman, Yara Travieso; and a boy, Jose 
Tena — enacted scenes from Montejo’s life with Zack Winokur’s athletic, 
articulated choreography. Wearing suspenders and a straw hat, Mr. 
Murdock depicted a swaggering plantation overseer with arrogant 
movements, for example. The dancers wore masks during a scene about 
spirits and ghosts. In the final scene, “The Machete,” the freed slave 
asserts he needs no fancy weaponry to fight any future battles.

While the work’s leftist political statements seem dated, on a purely 
artistic level “El Cimarrón” is a compelling musical and theatrical 
experience, especially in this tightly wrought production.

“El Cimarrón” continues on Saturday and Sunday at St. Catherine of 
Siena, 4 Riverside Avenue, Riverside, Conn.; (203) 637-0536, 

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