Trailer for The François Vase
The François Vase is a collaboration between visual artist Gabriela Vainsencher and composer Daniel Fox. The work retells the Greek myth of the labyrinth from the Minotaur’s perspective. The use of dance was inspired by the ritualistic coming-of-age dances performed by Greek girls and boys outside the site of the labyrinth and the theory that Ariadne’s thread is actually a symbol for a dance. The video features Green Chair Dance Group and the score is performed by the Momenta Quartet.
Program notes by Vainsencher and Fox
The François Vase
The opening melody twists and turns around itself like a labyrinth, generating a fugue. Traditional fugal treatment is enriched with spatial fragmentation in which the natural melodic lines are scattered between the instruments.
Act I: The Minotaur in The Labyrinth
When Vainsencher first saw dancer Hannah de Keijzer at a rehearsal, she was on the floor, folding and unfolding her body like a fiddlehead into a fern, and back. This became the basis for The Minotaur’s birth. De Keijzer expanded the choreography with movements inspired by footage of calves being born and taking their first steps.
Acts II & III: Ariadne’s Thread & Ariadne and Theseus in The Labyrinth
In the first scene of this act, Ariadne teaches Theseus the layout of the labyrinth in the form of a dance. For the second scene one dancer is traversing the labyrinth and the other dancer is the labyrinth. The music flows continuously over Acts I, II, & III of the video until the melodic subject is fully unwound and rises up into the stratosphere.
Act IV: The Slaying of The Minotaur
In the Greek myth, Theseus slays the Minotaur by himself and then finds his way out of the labyrinth using Ariadne’s thread. Here, the thread is interpreted as a coming-of-age ritual—a dance—that communicates spatial knowledge through the body’s movement. The slaying is associated with the sexual act and is impossible without Ariadne’s complicity.
The music of Act III relies upon one of the rhythms used in the flamenco bulerías, a natural cultural depot to draw upon for an act focused on the taurus. The fast pulse and close canons invoke the echo of running footsteps in the labyrinth. The chase is disrupted by outbursts and guttural struggles.
No sooner has Theseus killed Ariadne’s half brother and whisked her off towards the sunset, than he abandons her on the island of Naxos and sails away. Act IV imagines the breakup as an ancient curse that dooms its victims to relive the worst moments of their relationship and destroys even the happy memories.
The screen is divided into three layers, recalling the visual and narrative polyphony of the registers that adorn the original François Vase. The rising melodic line that ended Act II now falls down upon itself, over and over again, in a polyrhythmic texture.
Appearing in this act as themselves, Green Chair Dance Group reenact the shattering of the Greek vase at the hands of a museum employee. The dancers are seen moving slowly, in real time. The music for Act V revisits the theme of fragmentation. Translucent harmonies move in and out of focus and eventually, quietly, shatter.