Ralph Lee's Mettawee River Theatre Company to Present THE DANCING FOX, 9/5-14
Ralph Lee's Mettawee River Theatre Company will return for its annual September season in the lovely Outdoor Garden of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine with "The Dancing Fox: Wisdom Tales of the Middle East," five enchanting tales from the shared folk traditions of Jews and Arabs, including the writings of Sufi mystics, along with fables and folklore of the region. Six weekend performances, September 5, 6, 7 and 12, 13, 14 at 7:30 PM in the Garden, entrance on 111th Street & Amsterdam Avenue. Chairs are provided, but audiences may also bring blankets for closer seating in front of the chairs - and snacks! "The Dancing Fox" is recommended for audience members eight years and older.
In the five-story "The Dancing Fox," a reprise of a 2003 Mettawee production, we encounter some clever foxes, dim-witted fish, a vengeful snake, and other colorful creatures, as well as a number of wise and foolish humans. New perspectives emerge form the comic twists and tragic turns of their adventures and, of course, the extraordinary masks, puppets and giant figures by Ralph Lee will be used to flesh out the particular realm of each tale.
In a feature story in The New York Times at the work's premiere, writer Laurel Graeber remarked "... in one area they (Muslims and Jews) have consistently shared common and undisputed ground: storytelling..........Although 'The Dancing Fox' is intended to be entertainment for all ages, Mr. Lee acknowledges that, like the tales themselves, he has a larger message. That comes through especially in the final story (as described by Lee) "It's about two brothers whose lives are enriched by sharing things rather than by taking an opposite course." (September 5, 2003).
When interviewed this year about the production, Mettawee Artistic Director Ralph Lee noted: "Eleven years ago, when asked what 'The Dancing Fox' was about, I would reply, 'Folk stories found in both the Jewish and Arab traditions.' 'Oh, how timely!' was often the response. Eleven years later, same question, same answer, and 'Oh, how timely!' hWell, I guess our previous production didn't change the course of history in the Middle East, and it won't this time either, but the stories are still rich with delicious humor, uncanny insights, and sharp barbs, ready to jab you into painful laughter as they hit home."
Under the Artistic Direction of mask maker, designer and director Ralph Lee, the Mettawee River Theatre Company, founded in 1975, creates original theater productions that incorporate masks, giant figures, puppets and other visual elements with live music, movement and text, drawing on myths, legends and folklore of the work's many cultures for its material. The company is committed to bringing theater to people who may have little or no access to live professional performances and have a full schedule of summer performances in many parks and theaters in upstate New York.
In his design and direction, Ralph Lee seeks to create vivid theatrical moments with economy and elegance. This search for an evocative simplicity of image and Mettawee's commitment to make theater accessible to the widest possible audience give this theater company its particular character.
Ralph Lee first created puppets as a child growing up in Middlebury, Vermont. He graduated form Amherst College in 1957, and studied dance and theater in Europe for two years on a Fulbright Scholarship. Upon returning to the U.S., Lee acted on Broadway, off-Broadway, in regional theaters and with the Open Theatre. During that period he started creating masks, unusual props, puppets and larger-than-life figures for theater and dance companies, including the New York Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, the Living Theatre, the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Shari Lewis, the Metropolitan Opera, and TV's Saturday Night Live.
In 1974, while teaching at Bennington College, Lee staged his first outdoor production, which was performed all around the college campus and featured giant puppets and masked creatures. That same year he organized the first Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which he directed through 1985. For his work on the Parade, Lee received a 1975 Village Voice OBIE Award, a 1985 Citation from the Municipal Arts Society, and in 1993 he was inducted into the City Lore People's Hall of Fame.
Two of Lee's Mettawee productions have been honored with American Theatre Wing Design Awards: The Popol Vuh in 1995 and Wichikapache Goes Walking in 1992. Under Lee's direction, Mettawee also received a 1991 Village Voice OBIE Award and two Citations for Excellence from UNIMA, the international puppetry organization. Additional awards to Lee include a 1996 Dance Theatre Workshop Bessie Award for "sustained achievement as a mask maker and theatre designer without equal," and a 1996 New York State Governor's Arts Award in recognition of his many contributions to the artistic and cultural life of New York State. In 2003, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. one of the nation's most prestigious honors. In 2008 Lee served as the Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence at the University of Maryland at College Park. Lee is currently on the faculty of New York University.