Songs of Bilitis Sure to Entice

The logo for the Bilitis Revisisted project.

The logo for the Bilitis Revisisted project.

On Friday night at 7 p.m., Songs of Bilitis will be the main highlight at the Alma Thomas Theatre.  The show, which is a reconstruction of the 12 Chansons de Bilitis by Debussy, is based on its 1901 premiere in Paris, with comments by legendary danseuse Carmen de Lavallde.

“It’s a very compelling story, full of love and heartbreak, as well as betrayal,” senior music major David Li said.

“Lots of good music will be played, from classical composers like Debussy to our very own Dr. Hoogerhyde and composition students. Plus, there will be nudity, too!”

The night will provide the campus a chance to see more music composed by Hoogerhyde, who made his Southwestern debut last spring in “The Color of Dissonance. “

The story of Bilitis dates back to 1894, when Belgian poet Pierre Louys published 143 poems discovered by a German archeologist in a tomb by the side of a road in Cyprus. The poems were found to be that of Bilitis, an ancient Greek poetess who was raped by a goatherd. She then abandoned him and moved to Cyprus, where she became the “purest worshipper” of Aphrodite.

Louys believed society should be able to discuss beauty and human sexuality freely and openly, so he saw an opportunity to use the rape of Bilitis as an avenue for contemporary artistic and social discourse. This theme provided artistic and social sources of inspiration, providing the foundation for a number of artistic expressions, from dance, paintings, theatre, film and music.

French composer Claude-Achille Debussy was one of the first composers to respond to Louys’ challenge through music, producing three separate musical pieces in 1897, 1901 and 1914-15.  They include 3 Chansons de Bilitis for mezzo-soprano and piano, 12 chansons de Bilitis for recitation, mime, and chamber ensemble, and 6 Epigraphes antiques for piano duet. Over time, the word Bilitis has become associated with sensuality, homosexual love, sexual-awakening and self-knowledge.

Southwestern’s Bilitis Revisited is a “twenty-first celebration of an extraordinary artistic endeavor to engender open public discourse concerning some of human society’s most enduring themes and issues.” An artistic endeavor such as this is well suited for a school such as Southwestern, and the campus community should take advantage of this excellent opportunity to expand boundaries and become exposed to a unique collaboration of art.

Southwestern University contributors include Kerry Bechtel, John Michael Cooper, Sergio Costola, Elizabeth Green Musselman, Halford Haskell, Phil Hopkins, Jason Hoogerhyde, Thomas Howe, Julia Johnson, Alison Kafer, Francis Mathieu, John Ore, Victoria Star Varner, Audrey Olena, Brooke Lyssy, Megan McCarty.  Performers include Kiyoshi Tamagawa, Magen Comley, Delaine Fedson, Adrienne Inglis, Kathleen Juhl, Carol Kreuscher, Anthony Tobin and Jacqueline Ridder.

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