Sunday, March 27, 2016

Remembering Tamiris, Part 3: Tamiris as Cassandra

(A WPA poster promoting the dance production "Trojan Incident." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

In the WPA's dance production of the Trojan Incident, Tamiris played Cassandra, who was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. In Greek mythology, Cassandra tried to warn the Trojans about the Greeks hiding in the Trojan Horse, but no one believed her.

Trojan Incident played at the St. James Theatre at 246 W. 44th St. in New York, from April 21 to May 21, 1938. The play, and Tamiris's performance, divided critics. For example, "Tamiris was accused of bringing such terrifying intensity to her movement both for herself and the group that it was claimed to be wearing on mind and spirit" (Christena L. Schlundt, Tamiris: A Chronicle of Her Dance Career, 1927-1955, 1972, p. 47). 

On the other hand, New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, while noting that the production was "plagued by ineptitude," said the "the speed, precision and boldness of the dance imagery is frequently exciting..." (New York Times, April 22, 1938). John Martin, another New York Times reviewer, suggested that it was Tamiris's choreography and performance that saved the play:

"It would require a hardy soul indeed, to recommend attendance at the WPA production of 'Trojan Incident' at the St. James Theatre, for, truth to tell, it is only the dances of Tamiris, supported by the admirable musical score of  Wallingford Riegger, that keep it from transforming one of the world's greatest dramas into inadvertent farce" (New York Times, May 1, 1938).

But not everyone agreed with Atkinson and Martin's opinions that the play, as a whole, was problematic. One theatre-goer scolded the criticism of Trojan Incident as "uninformed derision" and described the play as "purposeful and interesting" (New York Times, May 15, 1938).

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