How do you encapsulate, in 40 minutes, the themes, artistic process, and backstory of FIFTY DAYS AT ILIAM—American painter Cy Twombly’s series of ten monumental canvases (1978, Philadelphia Museum of Art) inspired by the final weeks of the Trojan War, as recounted in Homer’s Iliad? You follow the lead of Twombly’s expressionist style, while also honoring the classical concept of “less is more.” Head artist and producer Hannah Van Sciver and her ensemble have done just that in their new self-devised work, employing a minimalist approach to convey the motivations, events, and emotions that are the essence of the eponymous paintings.
Combining passages of historical narrative and personal biography with 20th-century abstraction, the six creators/performers, directed by Will Steinberger, successfully interweave characters and episodes from the last days of the decade-long siege of ancient Troy (Iliam) with the relationship between Twombly (portrayed with meditative intensity by Van Sciver) and fellow artist Robert Rauschenberg (the charismatic Joseph Ahmed, who doubles as the Greek Achilles and also created the choreography). With eloquent movements, evocative sound, haunting live music, dramatic lighting, and a few simple props, they compare the gestural techniques of modern painting to the passionate acts of lovers and the hand-to-hand combat of ancient battles; the paint and canvas of the studio to the blood and shroud of a fallen combatant on the battlefield; and the horrors and heroics of war to the struggles of “great warrior” artists to create “art that matters.” It’s clever, inventive, insightful, and compelling. [Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine St.] September 3-5, 2015; fringearts.com/fifty-days-at-iliam.