‘Chagall’ brings dance, music, art, theater to La Jolla Playhouse


By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Mark Chagall, a Russian-born fishmonger’s son who became one of the best-known artists of the 20th century, had a 97-year-long life that was as colorful as his paintings. Now, thanks to choreographer John Malashock and composer/lyricist Yale Strom, he is the subject of a dance musical coming to the Shank Theater at La Jolla Playhouse June 6-9.

The latest incarnation of a four-year project first introduced at the Lipinsky Family Jewish Arts Festival in 2010, “Chagall” now has a third collaborator: writer/director Tom Dugdale, a recipient of the Princess Grace Award who is currently artist-in-residence at the Playhouse. Dugdale provided the extra dimension, moving this new workshop version ever closer toward what Strom and Malashock hope they are heading for — a full production that is part musical theater, part Cirque du Soleil.

The idea for a musical based on Chagall’s life first came to Strom in 2009. Strom, a musician/ethnographer whose band, Hot P’Stromi, plays a mix of klezmer, Roma (gypsy) and world beat music, had used Chagall’s famous painting, “The Green Violinist,” as the cover for his 2002 “The Book of Klezmer: The history, the music, the folklore,” and was particularly interested in the world of Chagall’s childhood. He had something in mind that was different from conventional musicals, and talked to Malashock about creating a piece that combined music, theater, and dance.

Malashock, whose dance company celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, was taken with the idea. “There’s so much movement in Chagall’s work and so much richness to the characters in his life,” he said. “It seemed only natural to add the element of dance.”

Strom and Malashock came up with the music and the movement. Now Dugdale has added a story: Chagall’s homecoming trip at age 85 to the town he was born and raised in, and the memories that awaken of the places he has lived and the women in his life. And Chagall has an alter-ego: the Green Violinist, who helps tell the tale, from another point of view.

Strom’s songs for the show (some using excerpts from Chagall’s autobiography) combine klezmer music with bits of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, French music-hall tunes and jazz. And now there are two dancers portraying the artist: long-time Malashock associate Michael Mizerany as Old Chagall, and guest dancer, Danny Ryan, as Young Chagall.

“Up until now, we’ve only shown scenes from the show,” Strom said. “This is the first time audiences will have a chance to see the whole thing. We’ve definitely expanded. Besides Tom Dugdale, who is wonderful to work with, we now have six musicians, two singers, 10 dancers, and Nuvi Mehta, a violinist who also happens to act.”

In fact, Mehta (yes, he’s related to Zubin!) is a violinist/conductor who gives pre- concert talks for San Diego Symphony. One of the dancers, Kiona Daelin, also happens to be an aerialist.

“There are so many floating characters in Chagall’s work, we wanted to have some elements above-ground, to defy gravity, the way he did in his paintings,” Malashock said. “We’ve got a whole team now, with costume, sound, and light designers, and we’ve got a show that really tells a story. Even though it’s still a workshop, it’s really, really exciting!”

If you go

■ What: ‘Chagall: A Dance Musical,’ workshop performance

■ When: June 6-9

■ Where: Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, UC San Diego campus

■ Tickets: Free, seating limited


• (619) 260-1622