Christina Rosenvinge is Sappho and reigns in Mérida: "She was the first Bob Dylan"

Miracles are unexpected. Because they are capricious and because hardly anyone expects them. But sometimes they do happen. And yesterday at the dress rehearsal for the premiere of Safo, at the International Festival of Classical Theater in MeridaThe planets aligned. Mainly three.

Christina Rosenvinge herself, who in her first theatrical incursion finds a pop and languid Sappho who is all presence; the playwright María Folguera, who offered a fragmentary, lyrical, intelligent and playful text without the need to load inks; and its director, Marta Pazos, capable of recreating a kitsch universe commanded by the spirit of Sofia Coppola from Marie Antoinette. Sappho of Mytilene was the first poet of Archaic Greece who lived in the sixth century before Christ. A figure chewed up by the patriarchal and academic historiography that is reborn in this fresh work, claiming another joyous femininity and without burdens.

The play opens with some Fates coming to claim Sappho's living body. Futuristic grim reapers that look like something out of a Robert Palmer eighties video, but dressed in Versace and moving on a chewy pink stage: pink music instruments, pink dance floor and, in the background, a Christo-style recreation of Christo himself. Miniature Roman Theater of Mérida.

They will take her away with coins in her eyes to pay Charon, but first they will remember the life of this poet, singer and creator of the plectrum – plectrum for the lyre –, free and passionate. "She was the first Bob Dylan," Rosenvinge told this newspaper. "Sappho was not in Athens or Sparta, but on the Island of Lesbos, on the outskirts, and from there she creates a space of freedom, as if it were the Ibiza of that time, that is the imaginary that has somewhat shaped the spirit of work”, continues the singer.

Apart from these three creators, the work is supported by a very remarkable group of women on stage. With a María Pizarro of unsuspected strength in the poetics of the body (who already worked with María Pazos in Lorca's Comedia sin titulo) and with a surprising Lucía Bocanegra, a 24-year-old Sevillian woman from dance who is capable of filling a theater with centuries of stone behind them. A miracle that is rounded out with one of the most versatile and correct actresses, in the best sense of the word, on the scene: Natalia Huarte, who acts as a textual counterpoint.

Finally, the band: bass, drums, guitar and organ in the hands of Juliane Heinemann, Irene Novoa, Lucía Rey and Xerach Peñate. The ensemble is led by a pop and experimental Rosenvinge who, clinging to Safo's text, constructs several powerful songs such as Hoy no durme solo, a small song of delicate pop preciousness; Wedding Song, a folk hymn that turns the rite of marriage into a feminine and popular twinning; and Song of Fragments, a rockier piece, experimental in nature and which Rosenvinge said came out “a bit PJ Harvey”.

All of them, dancers, musicians and actresses, contaminate and reactivate each other orchestrated by the associative freedom of Pazos, which is supported by the architectural and environmental lights of Nuno Meira and the costumes of Pier Paolo Álvaro. The latter ranges from the eighties look, through chiffon haute couture and flounce, to unsuspected successes of fifties aesthetics or a gold-plated funerary finish.

The purpose: to explore what little we know about the life of this woman who wrote more than ten thousand lyrical compositions, of which only 190 remain. A far from innocent loss. It would be Pope Gregory VII who decided to burn the work of this poet in the 11th century for being immoral. Go through her myth and her work and revisit it from the present, removing burdens and spurious inheritances, and thus be able to inherit it.

The work contains moments of great force, which are based on the way of doing experimental theater at the end of the last century. A theater in which the scenes are shaped by small actions or performances of the body that work for and by polysemy. The scene dedicated to Ovid stands out in which, in addition, the proposal is positioned politically.

Thus, we see an Ovid, played by Natalia Huarte, self-satisfied, imperial, and who is accused of having distorted the figure of Sappho in his well-known book The Heroids, where "it is invented" that Sappho committed suicide by love to young Phaon. “Until Ovid there is no reference to Sappho committing suicide, and the academic world strongly agrees that Sappho died when she was old, as evidenced by poems that have been saved and speak about old age”, defends the author María Folguera to this daily.

“Ovid exalts her, but at the same time treats her with total condescension. I'm ugly but talented, with my art I make up for what I lack, I don't like women anymore, women stay away from me be heard that way at the Roman Theater in Mérida because we are still in that same culture, in that same cult”, emphasizes Folguera. “It is important to remove the figure of the female artist from there, otherwise we will always continue with the idea that she will die poor, young, crazy or cursed. In addition, she always linked to a male figure. Actually, what Safo says is the opposite: we can be great artists, be happy, love whoever we want, live in freedom and die of old age, there is no punishment, there is no stigma”, Pazos points out.

This scene from Ovid ends with Rosenvinge singing the Passion Poem, "my skin hides a river that burns inside me, my ears ring, my vision is clouded," says the lyrics. Meanwhile, Natalia Huarte is eating a watermelon fruit with her hands that she has between her legs with a somewhat punky gesture. An example of how the theatrical action, performative and not illustrative, can weave the different parts of the work with polysemy and intention without it being a succession of scenes. Likewise, we will see a dance by Bocanegra with armor on her legs that in difficulty gains in poetry, or several duets between this dancer and Pizarro of great strength where the female body reigns free and treated with healthy impudence.

Although there are still moments, presences and texts to polish, the work is already maintained and has all the signs of growing. Although its lyricism is not always effective and it has less graceful rhythms or songs, such as an incomprehensible Song of the Muses, the work contains moments of great visual and musical force where a prodigious Rosenvinge reigns who, although she knows that in moving through space and the theatrical saying can shipwreck, it devastates in capacity and magnetism on the scene.

Safo is, in short, a rare bird that roams with equal solvency in concert, classicism and contemporary composition. Eight months ago they proposed the project to Rosenvinge, "I had just lost my mobile and with it all the demos of my new album, so I accepted without knowing what we were going to end up with," the singer explains to this newspaper.

Now, after a few months, a solvent piece has been built that also draws attention to the combination of talents of women from different generations and how they have managed to row in the same direction. A direction that roams in a sapphic field without morality, joyful, focused on desire and vital. It is not usual, and it is appreciated, to see a great production that starts without knowing, even remotely, the point of arrival and, in addition, bets on the mixture of pop, classical theater, contemporary authorship and a renewing scenic language. Safo, after the performances in Mérida this week, will travel to the Teatre Romea in Barcelona as part of the Festival Grec program, to then go to Sagunto on July 20 and, in September, enter the season at the Teatros del Canal.

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