Lucy Negro Redux (photo by Karen Kipley)
Acclaimed Folk Musician and Ballet Company Unveil Mystery Woman
The genius of Shakespeare transcends eras and cultures. People all over the world in every generation turn to the Bard and find inspiration. In 2015, Nashville poet Caroline Randall Williams published “Lucy Negro, Redux,” a book of poetry which imagines the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets to be a woman of African descent.
In 2019, Paul Vasterling, artistic director of the Nashville Ballet, devised a ballet for “Lucy Negro, Redux” in collaboration with Williams, which he choreographed and for which renowned folk artist Rhiannon Giddens provided live musical accompaniment.
Kansas City will have a chance to experience this daring work when the Harriman-Jewell Series presents the Nashville Ballet, Caroline Randall Williams and Rhiannon Giddens in “Lucy Negro Redux” at 7:30 p.m. April 8 at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
“This will be the first time we present the Nashville Ballet,” Clark Morris, executive and artistic director of the Harriman-Jewell Series said. “It’s the first time for all of these artists.”
For her many fans, folk artist Rhiannon Giddens is reason enough to buy a ticket. The singer, fiddler and banjo player is considered one of the finest musicians of her generation. Giddens is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” as well as a slew of awards, including multiple Grammys. She was born in North Carolina to a white father and an African- and Native-American mother and performs her music regularly with the group she founded, Carolina Chocolate Drops.
“If you’re not familiar with the name Rhiannon Giddens, you’ve probably heard her before in some context because she does so many collaborations,” Morris said. “Her music is amazing. You just type her name into whatever streaming service you use, and listen to her music. You’ll fall in love with her as an artist in a very short period of time.”
Giddens is noted for her many collaborations. From performing “Saint James Infirmary Blues” with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble to jamming with Renée Fleming and Alison Krauss, Giddens easily blends genres.
When the MacArthur Foundation awarded Giddens its fellowship, it wrote, “Giddens’s drive to understand and convey the nuances, complexities, and interrelationships between musical traditions is enhancing our musical present with a wealth of sounds and textures from the past.”
Adding another special touch to the performance will be Williams, who recites her poetry live on stage as part of the ballet’s action. One can understand why Shakespeare’s Dark Lady would captivate Williams, an African American who comes from a long line of distinguished ancestors, including Arna Bontemps, a noted Harlem Renaissance poet, and Nashville civil rights leader and former Tennessee State Senator Avon Williams.
“The description of the lady in the sonnets of Shakespeare make it clear that she is a woman of color,” Morris said. “There are some scholars who think she possibly worked in a brothel or the sex trade. Whether that’s true or not, certainly the context of their relationship was of a sexual nature.”
Morris says there are aspects of “Lucy Negro Redux” that are for mature audiences only.
“In Shakespeare’s sonnets, it’s clear that there is a sexual component to their love,” he said. “So this is an adult performance with mature themes. Anyone can come, but we do suggest that if parents want to bring kids, they should know this is a performance best suited to audiences over 18.”
Those who do attend will perhaps understand why the Dark Lady inspired Shakespeare to write, “O me, what eyes hath Love put in my head.”
“Reviewers that have seen “Lucy Nego Redux” have just gone crazy for it,” Morris said. “‘The New York Times’ called the ballet a ‘Nashville miracle.’ It’s incredibly creative and thoughtful. The artists involved are just top notch. It’s a wonderful work that we’re proud to be able to bring to Kansas City.”
Go to www.hjseries.org for event tickets and details.