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The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk put on by the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre until June 19 is a Beautiful Play that Brings Chagall's Paintings to Life

reviewed by Jane Enkin, June 11, 2012


Jane Enkin's Review of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, June 9 - 19, 2022, Asper Campus Tent


One word comes to mind over and over again when thinking of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk – beautiful. This lovely, tender play with music tells the story of beloved painter Marc Chagall and his wife, writer Bella Chagall. 


Anticipation mounts when the audience enters the tent on the Asper campus. The staging is in the round, and there are items suspended all around the stage, among them a tallis, a blue flying fish, and many, many flowers, while piles of suitcases are scattered all about.


The story begins when Marc and Bella meet in 1909. At first the two young people think only about their passion for one another and their playful delight together. Director Ari Weinberg encourages us to luxuriate in the beauty of young love.


History interferes and playwright Daniel Jamieson takes us through many events that shaped the couple’s lives. In 1914, Marc intends to marry Bella in Vitebsk and return with her to Paris, where he had been developing his skills as a painter. War breaks out and all the borders are closed. To avoid Marc’s conscription to the front, the couple moves to St Petersburg where Marc can have a desk job. Then the revolution takes over Russia. Marc is inspired, and very involved in Soviet arts institutions. But it becomes increasingly hard to be a Jew in Soviet Russia and eventually Marc and Bella flee. 


Through all their travels, Marc’s priority is painting – and yet the love story is always prominent. His many paintings of lovers are suggested visually in thrilling ways during the play. Meanwhile, Bella begins to discover herself as a writer. (Her gorgeous memoir Burning Lights, with illustrations by Chagall, was published posthumously.)


The play features lovely music, composed by Ian Ross, and delicate singing.


The two performances, by Daniel Greenberg and Isidora Kecman, are deeply affecting. Their delight in the early days of their relationship is delicious to watch. Later, pressures and tensions come into their marriage, but enduring tenderness shines through every moment of the play.


The actors bear a strong physical resemblance to Bella and Marc, and the costumes are evocative of images in paintings and photos of the couple, yet are at the same time fluid enough to allow for dance. Sara Topham’s choreography, brilliantly danced by Greenberg and Kecman, brings Chagall’s paintings to life.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.