About Women in the Woods

Workshop 3

About Women in the Woods

Women in the Woods is a performance piece currently being developed by creative collective Wanderlust: American stage director Crystal Manich, Australian soprano Jane Sheldon, Canadian Soprano Anne Harley and Finnish dancer/choreographer Maria Nurmela. It is a staged work for two sopranos, flute, violin, viola da gamba and lute, with solo dancer.

The program presents French early music from the 12th-18th centuries, a span of time that produced a great wealth of songs sung from a woman’s perspective. In the 12th and 13th centuries the songs of the trouvères told of women’s inner lives, and what they describe is strikingly resonant with contemporary experiences of love, of lust, of courtship, and of betrayal. The later repertoire draws on the operas and pastoral cantatas of the French Baroque.

The program takes its title from the myriad references in this repertoire to the woods, le bois, as a place of sheltered solitude for women, a place where they go to lament, to dance, to comfort one another, to meet their lovers, to transgress, all away from the gaze of others.

With this program, Crystal, Jane, Anne and Maria intend to present an ode to female experience, with a particular focus on matters of the heart.

Inspiration for the project
Crystal has long been beguiled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s gallery of Greek and Roman sculpture. In 2012 she approached Jane about collaborating on a work made for that space. At the time Jane was enjoying working with Anne Azema and Boston Camerata on Le Jeu D’Amour, a beautiful program of trouvères songs about courtly love and women’s experience. Once introduced to this repertoire, Jane became interested in tracking the presence of women’s stories in French music through the centuries up to the end of the French Baroque. She found that through all this music, women are repeatedly situated in one place for their contemplation and transgression: le bois, the woods. In the sculpture gallery, with the tall forest of figures, we had found these woods. The idea of interacting with the statues, and moving through them, giving them a flexible role as both human figures to address and as the trees of the woods, led Crystal and Jane to see the necessity of working with a dancer, and welcomed Maria to the project. Anne, a long time collaborator with both Jane and Maria, was asked to be the additional soprano needed after the first workshop.

At this stage in the project’s development the Met’s gallery remains a goal, but we’ve found other spaces that excite us too. As a result, and in the spirit of Wanderlust, the work is being developed to be flexible, to be able to to be presented in a variety of spaces: sculpture gardens, parks, warehouse spaces. We’re happy for the list to grow; do tell us if a site comes to mind. Click here to send us an email.

What stage have we reached?
Crystal and Jane live in New York City, Anne lives in Los Angeles, while Maria lives in Helsinki, Finland. The development of Women in the Woods therefore involves bridging the Atlantic Ocean. We worked for a year through Skype meetings, with the occasional luxury of a brief meeting in person when our work schedules had us by luck in the same city. After our successful week-long workshop last August we applied to a grant and received it from the Kone Foundation in Finland. August 18-28, 2014, marks the first meeting for the entire group as we strive to develop Women in the Woods into a performance.  We are aiming to premiere the work in 2015.