Thursday, 19 March 1998

White Neda by Bagryana Popov, March 19, 1998

White Neda by Bagryana Popov
at La Mama until March 29, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around March 18, 1998

Folk and fairy tales inevitably deal with the dark side. The Grimms recorded gruesome German folklore and these stories were not uncommon in other parts of the continent.

Bagryana Popov, founding member of Hildegard Theatre and Petrunka Bulgarian choir, interprets for the stage the Bulgarian folk tale of White Neda confronting the human fear of one's unknown destiny.

Popov, with stylish and simple direction by Nancy Black, integrates diverse vocal and movement skills with fine live percussion by Elissa Goodrich.

Neda, who lives alone, is rapturous about the visit of her nine brothers and their eight wives and eight nephews for a three day feast. She is enthralled by her brother's folk-tale of the Yuda at the well who threatens to disfigure a man unless he lies with her. He bargains for his life and saves himself by marrying her.

When, in deep night, Neda herself is compelled to fetch water to soothe her thirsty nephew, she is confronted with a 'real' Yuda at the well who wills her to go with her. Neda bargains by vowing to return on St. George's Day. Her brothers suggest she fool the Yuda by dressing in nun's black robe on her return. But death cannot be duped.

Popov's physicality and self-narration is effective and affecting. Her vocalising is particularly compelling in conjunction with Goodrich's extraordinarily evocative xylophone which reverberates with wind in the forest, darkest night and the drip of water. The persistent water imagery is a potent reminder of our deeper, emotional lives. The singing sound of one finger round the rim of a wine glass was inspired.

Ilka White's design and Paul Jackson's subtle lighting provide a fittingly spare environment for this rustic parable about death. One cannot hide from one's fate. The allegory could be interpreted more broadly as being about transformation, passing from one phase into another, about growing up and leaving behind childish things, almost as a hero's journey to acceptance of oneself.

The ending is a poignant, lyrical image of Neda, naively dressed in her nun's habit, choosing to leave with the Yuda. The early, joyful, skittering steps of the earlier, more innocent Neda are replaced by a more mature, ritualistic pace. We are left with a sense of a life incomplete, without children and husband, cut off before its time.


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