Four Saints in Three Acts
“Four Saints in Three Acts is a legendary 1934 work eclectically composed by Virgil Thomson to a witty, whimsical libretto by Gertrude Stein. The original production featured an all-Black cast portraying “European” saints under the direction of John Houseman, with choreography by none other than Frederick Ashton. Morris’ version is colorful and folksy, taking its cue from Stein’s witty wordplay and Thomson’s score, in turns folksy, slyly classical and South American-tinged.
Before a front curtain on which quotations from Stein’s libretto are written, dancers clad in Elizabeth Kurtzman’s pastichy peasant costumes enter in pairs, then fours, then all together, finally parting this curtain to reveal the rest of Maira Kalman’s incredibly colorful set, backdrops and legs full of reds, fuschias and other brilliant hues. The closing of the front curtain signified scene changes and each time it re-opened, a different, but equally splendid backdrop was in place, one featuring flowers, one stars, etc. Each dancer represented one of the “assorted saints” with Michelle Yard and Samuel Black, dressed in filmy white, portraying the main characters, St. Teresa and St. Ignatius, respectively.”
“As it happened there is on the Boulevard Raspail a place where they make photographs which have always held my attention. They take a photograph of a young girl dressed in the costume of her ordinary life and little by little in successive photographs they change it to a nun and this is done for the family when the nun is dead and in memoriam. For years I had stood and looked at these when I was walking and finally when I was writing St Teresa in looking at these photographs I saw how St Teresa existed from the life of an ordinary young lady to that of a nun. Then in another window this time on the Rue de Rennes there was a rather large porcelain group and it was of a young soldier giving alms to a beggar and taking off his helmet and his armour and leaving them in the charge of another. It was somehow just what the young Saint Ignatius did and anyway it looked like him as I had known about him and so he too became actual not as actual as St Teresa in the photographs but still actual so the Four Saints got written.”
– Gertrude Stein, 1934