Two summers ago as part of the Obermann Interdisciplinary Grant program, a group of artists commandeered the Obermann attic and covered tables and walls with prints of Greek vases and statues, photos of George W. Bush and fashion models on the catwalk, a golden blanket made of foil, and film stills of abandoned life jackets. The rich array of objects and images proved to be the birthing site for a trans-media production that has already had several public iterations but which will be seen in its fullest and boldest version to date this November.
The kernel behind what is now called Iphigenia Point Blank: Story of the First Refugee—A film opera originated with UI Theatre professor and playwright Lisa Schlesinger's interest in the worldwide refugee crisis, especially as it climaxed in Europe in 2015. That year, Schlesinger and Irina Patkanian, a Russian-born filmmaker, created an initial piece about Iphigenia, the mythological Greek princess whose father sacrifices her to start a war with Troy.
"We really interrogated the idea of who we sacrifice for war, whose sons and daughters we expect, as a culture, to sacrifice so that others can live,” says Schlesinger of the site-specific piece that she and Patkanian produced in Greece. Patkanian had traveled to Lesbos that summer and captured footage as 60 to 70 boats came ashore each day bringing thousands of refugees.
At Obermann in 2016, the two were joined by Marion Schoevaert, a French theater director known for her bold productions that cross boundaries of culture (e.g., bullfighting in Korean) and artistic form (e.g., non-dancers dancing, dancers acting). As Schlesinger wrote and Patkanian edited film, Schoevaert began to craft the elements of a stage spectacle borrowing references from multiple cultures and eras.
The trio expanded into a collaborative team as other artists joined the production, including Kinan Azmeh, a Syrian composer and member of the Silk Road Ensemble; Layale Chaker, a French-Lebanese violinist and composer; George de la Peña, UI professor of dance and a choreographer; and Taesup Lee, a San Francisco-based scenic director.
The work they've produced, Iphigenia Point Blank: Story of the First Refugee—A film opera, will premiere at the UI Theatre November 1, 2018, and run through November 11. Tickets are available through the Hancher Box Office.
In addition, several public events will provide the local community with opportunities to learn more from this complex and immensely talented group of artists:
- November 3: Kinan Azmeh’s CityBand will play two shows in Strauss Hall at Hancher, at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.; contact the Hancher Box Office for tickets.
- November 5: The Embracing Complexity Lunch Series will feature Kinan Azmeh’s CityBand from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library (free and open to the public).
- November 5: Many of the principal artists, including Schlesinger, Schoevaert, Patkanian, Chaker, and de la Peña, will present their process and talk about the work during a panel from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Old Capitol Museum (free and open to the public).