Ancient Greek legend to be performed at Thames River's edge

Harold Blackhood portrays Apollo in 'Daphne.'
Harold Blackhood portrays Apollo in "Daphne."

In the legend of Daphne, while fleeing from Apollo's passionate pursuit, the river nymph cries out to her father, Peneus, the river god, to save her, and he transforms her into a laurel tree.

"Daphne" will be re-enacted in an original short dance and musical presentation on Aug. 20 at Riverrun, the late William Meredith's beautiful home on the Thames River in Uncasville and the perfect setting to bring Ovid's Greek myth to life.

Richard Harteis, president of the William Meredith Foundation and Meredith's longtime partner, conceived the performance along with Brett Raphael, founder and artistic director of the Connecticut Ballet and creator of The New London Dance Initiative that is aimed at increasing dance exposure and training for the city's youth.

After Meredith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, teacher, and avid arts supporter. died in 2007, a group of his friends formed The William Meredith Foundation to continue his legacy. The foundation gives an annual poetry prize in Meredith's memory. Meredith's home was also designated an historic landmark by the State of Connecticut where artists are invited to residencies to create new works and share their talents through art exhibitions, readings, publications and academic seminars.

After meeting Raphael and inviting him to lunch on the property where Harteis, also a poet and fiction writer, continues to reside, Harteis said to him, "'Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a character playing Daphne, running among all these beautiful trees?'"

"William was an arborist," Raphael explains "There are 12 kinds of beeches here on the property."

The performance features Katia Jirankova Levanti as Daphne, Harold Blackhood as Apollo, and Dan Potter of Mystic Paper Beasts Theater Company as Peneus.

Raphael staged the solo and duet sections of the dance but says it was very much a collaboration with Jirankova Levanti, a performance and visual artist from Czechoslovakia. She and her husband, Daniel Levanti, a songwriter/musician/composer, live half the year in Mystic and the other half in Prague.

"Katia is very much an improviser and moves to her own drummer," Raphael says. "Some artists/dancers require more direction."

The piece features an original soundscape.

"Katia chose piano music by Aram Khatchaturian, a well-known Armenian classical composer," Raphael says. "It's very bombastic and fitting for Apollo in particular. Katia's husband, Daniel, shaped and integrated it into a larger, intriguing piece."

Blackhood just joined Connecticut Ballet this summer. He's from Cuba, where he trained at the National Ballet of Cuba, and has worked with a number of companies, most recently Ballet Concerto de Puerto Rico.

"I chose him because he's a wonderful foil for Katia and definitely looks Apollonian. He's a wonderful dance partner and has a very strong presentation."

Raphael explains that Dan Potter does puppetry and mask making in addition to being a performer and he will be bringing one of his giant mask characters to represent Peneus, the father.

"Dan has a huge history of theater and symbolic mythological characters," Raphael says.

"Being outdoors, they'll be performing on Mother Earth with everything from pine cones to rocks and pebbles and even an incline that's difficult to navigate," he says. "But these individuals are up for that, all for trying new things, and taking advantage of this gorgeous summer weather to dance. The view is unbelievable, and it's an opportunity to celebrate William Meredith's work on those grounds.

"We're doing it at sunset, to take advantage of the afternoon light," he adds. "It should be beautiful on the water."

Prior to the performance, Harteis will read from Ovid's "Metamorphosis" as an introduction to the legend.

Guests will be given a tour of the grounds, including walking down to Clayton Point at the river's edge.

"There is also a kind of secret garden where William's ashes are buried," Harteis says, "and a beautiful oak tree William wrote a poem about — a private place to meditate and reflect."

Raphael stresses that this is a great way for artists to come together and network and have fun in beautiful surroundings and that it is in no way an exclusive event.

"Richard is so gracious in hosting this. We'll have a wonderful day together as Connecticut Ballet. People mostly see us (indoors) in theaters," he says. "I want to take our artists out more and do more outreach where we can be seen in various contexts. It's a celebration of the creative impulse, an opportunity to work with a few of the many talented artists in the region."

 

Katia Jirankova Levanti dances as the title character in 'Daphne.'
Katia Jirankova Levanti dances as the title character in "Daphne."

If you go

What: A short reenactment of the "Daphne" legend, "Daphne: A Summer Pleasure," an original dance and musical presentation

Where: Riverrun, William Meredith's home on the Thames River, 337 Kitemaug Road, Uncasville

When: Saturday, Aug. 20; the event starts at 5:30 p.m., and the performance is 7-7:30 p.m.

Suggested donation: $10, including wine, refreshments, and tour of the property; it is open to the public

What to bring: People are asked to bring lawn chairs.

RSVP: By calling (860) 961-5138.

More information about The William Meredith Foundation: williammeredithfoundation.org

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