Beginning Aug. 4, the 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival will offer 170 different shows for audience members to attend, including Cia Sautter’s performance of “Golmah”, a new interpretation of the Golem story.
Since receiving her doctorate in Religion and the Arts from the Graduate Theological Union, Sautter created Cialuna Storydance Theatre, combining her knowledge of religious history with acting and flamenco dancing to recreate older Jewish stories in a more modern way.
As the traditional story goes, Rabbi Judah Loew creates a Golem to protect the Jews in Prague during the 16th century from being killed from blood libel, the idea that the Jews killed Christians to utilize their blood for holiday rituals.
“Rabbi Judah Loew is a Kabbalah master, supposedly in addition to being a great scholar,” Sautter said. “He uses his skills to create a Golem out of clay and he either puts a Torah scroll in his mouth, or writes some Hebrew on his forehead as sort of a magic formula to bring the Golem to life. The Golem has no soul and is kind of mechanical and he goes out and finds the people actually killing children or causing problems and brings it to light.”
However, Sautter plans to take the performance in a new direction. While she was initially drawn to the story because of its connection to Kabbalah and magic, throughout “Golmah” she explores the potential of the Jewish women in Prague during the time period and the possibility of them creating their own female protector.
“Around the time of Rabbi Judah’s life or just afterwards, women in Prague made these amazing advances in society and they’re even owning printing presses,” Sautter said. “It was a weird quirk that one well-known woman who owned a printing press, her name was Gittele, and Rabbi Judah Loew’s daughter was named Gittele, and I went ‘I could have a good time with that one.’ So it’s kind of a convergence of things I was reading in fiction for enjoyment and academic research for work, and my creative mind got going.”
The next step for Sautter was figuring out how to incorporate flamenco dancing into the performance, staying true to her practice and telling the story in a new way.
“I looked at past productions and people have done ballets, they’ve done modern dance, there’s all sorts of ways that they’ve played with how to bring the Golem to life with dancing. So I did some performing arts research and thought ‘Can I tie in the flamenco dance?’,” Sautter said. “And the answer is absolutely, because one of the ways they brought the Golem to life in these different productions was to look at different variations on the basic legend, which included making a magic circle, Jewish style.”
In the show Sautter plays and dances the parts of Gittele, the main storyteller, three other Jewish women of Prague who each represent a different Kabbalistic element, and the Golmah that they create as their protector.
“If you look at the Kabbalistic diagrams, one includes a circle spiraling in. So they would work with earth, air, fire and water, and the dances would reflect those different elements,” Sautter said. “And I thought, you know, there are different modes or alleys of flamenco that you would say are more earthy or more fluid or more fiery or more airy, so let’s just go with that.”
To aid in the flamenco performance, Sautter is accompanied by flamenco guitarist Ross Fellrath, and Dagmara Gutman who leads the audience in participating in the procession.
After almost two years in the making, Sautter said she is eager to share her work with festival-goers and to put out another variation on the Golem story for viewers to think about.
While the show does incorporate humor and even some Shakespearean elements, it also prompts audience members to think about discrimination against women and members of minority groups, both during the story’s corresponding time period and still today.
“I hope people go away from my show not only thinking about what happens to women, but I want people to go away thinking too about the place of minorities and when you’re a minority culture and then you’re a woman in a minority culture, who’s there to protect you?” Sautter said. “The serious point goes beyond what happened to the Jewish community and asks the question: What can I do to serve the community? What can I do to help people who feel powerless? It’s a little bit preachy, but I try and make it meaningful entertainment.”
Performances take place Aug. 4 and 11 at 7 p.m.; August 7 at 1 p.m.; Aug. 13 at 10 p.m. and Aug. 14 at 5:30 pm.” All shows will be held at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave S., Minneapolis, MN 55408. Tickets can be purchased here.