RESEARCH | REALIZATION

RESEARCH: Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas.
REALIZATION: Characters Dee & Izzy, and their falling sequence in the 2017 workshop showing.

Gertrude Stein, an art collector, publisher, writer, and journalist, is often associated with “the lost generation”, a group of expatriate writers living abroad between the wars. In addition to pushing boundaries in her writing (applying abstraction and Cubism to prose), she was also known for pushing boundaries with her peers. In fact, she was considered a formidable contemporary of Earnest Hemingway’s, who both respected and despised Stein for her confrontational style. While her writing was groundbreaking, ARTBARN was most drawn to her personal relationship with Alice B. Toklas.

Stein, who was working on research for her own writing, asked her friend Annette to share the letters she had been exchanging with her friend, Alice B. Toklas. That is how Stein first learned of this American-born member of the Parisian Avant-garde: through letters intended for another. Stein finally met Toklas in person when she arrived in Paris at which time Stein began openly courting her. From that moment onward, Toklas became Stein’s assistant and long-term companion/lover/partner. Interestingly enough, Stein’s autobiography is called, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” which was written about Stein from Toklas’ point of view.  Together, they hosted a dazzling array of the famous, the ambitious, the wealthy, and the curious at their Paris homes for Salons and lively debates (including with Hemingway himself). While their apartment was later deemed the “first museum of modern art” by the New York Times, what interested us most was the unique and seemingly unbalanced relationship between Stein and Toklas.

The relationship  between the characters Izzy and Dee in ARTBARN’s 2017 workshop showing mirrored that of Toklas and Stein. Izzy would become Dee’s assistant in maintaining their place of refuge, quickly becoming an invaluable part of the process, but rarely given leadership.  Simultaneously they found a deep romance, kept hidden from the rest of the girls. Their nuanced relationship was a central part of the story. For the 2017 workshop showing ARTBARN incorporated a movement sequence called “falling,” which was developed in response to Stein and Toklas’ history. The choreography featured Izzy and Dee swaying back and forth, using each others’ bodies and weight to “fall.” Their sequence was mirrored by two ensemble members completing the same action.

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