POWERS OF TWO : The Sibyl
Copyright © 1997 by Barry Truax
As the tape starts, lights come on to reveal the video dark projection screen below which is seated The Sibyl, wearing a magnificent cape. Still seated, she begins to vocalize and sing along with a solo female voice heard on tape.
Sibyl: Aaaaheeeh, aaaaheeehI am the voice of the ages,
The teller of visions,
The Mother of mothers,
And the memory of life.
As she rises, Video Tape One begins showing a male dancer wearing a long black dress and holding the white fringed scarf which becomes luminescent and multi-coloured as he dances.
Sibyl: I remember, I remember,I remember and tell of a Golden Age,
The Golden Age of long ago,
The story I must give to you.Blest Golden Age! When ev'ry Purling Stream
Ran undisturbed and clear,
When an Eternal Spring drest ev'ry Bough
And Blossoms fell, by new ones dispossest;
When Silver Waves o'er Shining Pebbles curl'd;
Or when young Zephirs fan'd the Gentle Breez,
Gath'ring fresh Sweets from Balmy Flow'rs and Trees,
Then bore 'em on their Wings to perfume all the Air:
(Aside) I must go on
But evening comes,
And a daughter I must find
To tell this story to.Then no rough sound of Wars Alarms
Had taught the World the needless use of Arms;
The stubborn Plough had then,
Made no rude Rapes upon the Virgin Earth;
Who yeilded of her own accord her plentious Birth;
Without the Aids of men;
As if within her Teeming Womb,
All Nature, and all Sexes lay,
Whence new Creations every day
Into the happy World did come.
(Aside) My daughter I must find to tell this story to.Be gone! And let the Golden age
Assume its Glorious Reign;
The Spring decays, but when the Winter's gone,
The Trees and Flowers a new comes on.
But Sylvia when your Beauties fade,
When the fresh Roses on your Cheeks shall die,
Like Flowers that wither in the Shade,
Eternally they will forgotten lye,
And no kind Spring their sweetness shall supply.
When Snow shall on those lovely Tresses lye
And your fair Eyes no more shall give us pain,
But shoot their pointless Darts in vain.
Then let us Sylvia yet be wise,
And the Gay hasty minutes prize:
The Sun and Spring receive but our short Light,
Once sett, a sleep brings an Eternal Night.Aphra Behn (1640-89): The Golden Age
As the song finishes, The Journalist (mezzo-soprano) enters from the house, wearing a pant suit with her hair pinned up, accompanied by the female dancer carrying a portable video camera and floodlight. This disruption causes consternation for the Sibyl, culminating with the end of the video tape appearing to "white out" as a result of the floodlight striking it.
Sibyl: My vision is gone! The image blinded! My vision blinded.
Journalist: Tell me, just tell me a story.They say you see the future and possess special powers.
Will you talk on camera? Thirty seconds will do.
Sibyl: I cannot remember my story or even my name.Can you re-tell my vision? Are you maybe my daughter?
Video Tape Two begins, showing multiple images of fashion models posing for the male gaze, punctuated by the recurrent image of a model washing her face in a basin. The dancer uses the camera to 'shoot' the Journalist from various angles during the following scene. The Sibyl is initially curious about the images that appear, but as they develop, she becomes increasingly sad.
Journalist: Television can show you everything, more than you can imagine,The image of your desires, the perfection of a Golden Age!
(regarding the video images longingly)Fair lovely Maid, or if that Title be
Too weak, too Feminine for Nobler thee,
Permit a Name that more Approaches Truth:
And let me call thee, Lovely Charming Youth.
(Aside) Have you ever seen such youth and beauty?
Sibyl: But what you see is false, it cannot die,Or Death already lies beneath the mask.
Journalist: (continues, ignoring her)This last will justifie my soft complaint,
While that may serve to lessen my constraint;
And without Blushes I the Youth persue,
When so much beauteous Woman is in view.
Sibyl: She is not meant for you but for another's gaze.
The Sibyl pulls the long fringed scarf up over her head (from underneath the cape) and slowly down over her face in the manner of the third video in Powers of Two: The Artist. This process continues up to the Duet.
Journalist: (again ignores her, but gives her a puzzled glance as the images turn more menacing)Against thy Charms we struggle but in vain
With thy deluding Form thou giv'st us pain,
When e'er the Manly part of thee wou'd plead,
Thou tempts us with the Image of the Maid.
For who, that gathers fairest Flowers believes
A snake lies hid beneath the Fragrant Leaves.Aphra Behn: To The Fair Clorinda
Sibyl: (from under the scarf) The enchantment's gone, the tale forgotYou cannot wash all age and time away.
The dancer puts the camera away and becomes the "lover" who rejects the woman in the following story.
Journalist: (suddenly fearful, touching her face as if washing it)I know of such a woman who in youth
Spurned love; then in old age
She burned with ardour, wept and mourned
The bitter rigour of belated pain.
With make-up and continual washing too
She tried to make herself look fair once again.
She sought to erase the wrinkles and the lines
That age had written deeply on her face,
But the more she thought her make-up was well done
The less her Love would gaze at her.Louise Labé (1525-66): Elegy I
Journalist & Sibyl:Bright Venus, you who wander through the Skies,
Listen to my song that shall lament,
While yet your face shines in the firmament,
My agony and cares and lengthy sighs.
Thus is the soul of man with weakness brushed;
By want of rest and gentle sleep we're led.
Beneath the Sun, I suffer and am strong;
But, when I've been almost entirely crushed,
And have, exhausted, crept into bed,
I must cry out my pain the whole night long.Louise Labé: Sonnet V
Video Tape two ends and the Dancer exits.
Sibyl: Your vision's gone! Can you see it does not last?Such beauty has no life.
Journalist: (clutching at the empty screen)But Clorinda, my love, this woman of my dreams,
Can you not call her back to me?
What must I do to bring her to my touch?
I have so much life to give her.
Sibyl: You must leave this world and become my heir,Forsake all desire and inherit my song.
Journalist: But Clorinda, my love ....Call her back to me ....
The Sibyl gestures towards the Dancer who holds the silk scarf. At her bidding she gives it to the Journalist and receives the fringed scarf from the Sibyl during the following song.
Sibyl: Arm yourself with your grief and rage,Surrender the conflict in your heart.
Then find within the strength in your fearless eyes,
And learn to sing with the power of your resonant voice.
Die to this world and live as my daughter!
The Sibyl, who until now has been relatively stationary, sweeps majestically around the Journalist, her cape flowing behind her. She pauses after each rotation to "act on" the Journalist, first removing her outer jacket, then some other accessories, and finally causing her to kneel. During this action, the Journalist sings and ties her own hands with the scarf, but otherwise passively accepts the manipulation.
Journalist: Adieu, dear Object of my Love's excess,And with thee all my hopes of happiness,
With the same fervent and unchanged heart,
Which did its whole self once to thee impart.
Yet I must go: we will submit,
And so our own disposers be;
For while we nobly suffer it,
We triumph o'er Necessity.
Nay then to meet we may conclude,
And all obstructions overthrow,
Since we our passion have subdu'd,
Which is the strongest thing I know.Katherine Philips (1631-1664): Parting with Lucasia
Towards the end of the song, the Sibyl releases the Journalist's long hair, spreads it out over her shoulders, and tenderly lowers her backwards into a death-like repose, arms crossed over her chest, still bound at the wrists by the scarf. The Sibyl removes her cape, swings it in the air over the Journalist's body and covers her with it, leaving only her face exposed. The Sibyl wears a simple, floor-length dress tied at the waist. On the tape is heard a fragment of Berg's Lulu sung by the Countess Geschwitz to the dying Lulu:
Sibyl: Lulu, my angel,For I am near, I am always near,
for ever more!
She bends over and kisses the Journalist tenderly, her hair falling over the two faces. The female dancer likewise dons the fringed scarf and lies down near the Journalist. The Sibyl gets up and slowly moves around the two prostrate figures. She smoothes the cape where it has fallen so that it is symmetrical.
Sibyl: Sleep now. Sleep now and dream,Your beloved will come to you there.
The stars will sing you to sleep
And the moon shall guide your love.
The Sibyl picks up the fringed scarf and wears it like a shawl. She now seems like an old woman protecting herself from the cold.
Sibyl: Thou silver deity of secret night,Direct my footsteps through the woodland shade;
Thou conscious witness of unknown delight,
The lover's guardian, and the Muse's aid!
By thy pale beams I solitary rove,
To thee my tender grief confide;
Serenely sweet you gild the silent grove,
My friend, my goddess, and my guide.
E'en thee, fair queen, from the amazing height,
The charms of young Endymion drew;
Veiled with the mantle of concealing night,
With all thy greatness, and thy coldness too.Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762): Hymn to the Moon
The Journalist, now transformed to Sappho, begins to awake and sit up. As she starts to sing, Video Tape Three begins showing a female dancer photographed from above, hence seeming to defy gravity. The live female dancer mirrors Sappho and her new found joy.
Sappho: Aaaheeeh, aaaheeeh
Sibyl: Welcome, Sappho, my own dear daughter.Blessed Sappho, I welcome your new found voice.
Tape: the women, the menthe wo/men
Sappho arises, her hands now free of the silk scarf. The Sibyl helps her put on the cape, then retreats to the top of the video tower and appears to lose consciousness.
Sappho: I did not live until this timeCrowned my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
'I am not thine, but thee.'
This carcase breathed, and walked, and slept,
So that the world believed
There was a soul the motions kept;
But they were all deceived.
For as a watch by art is wound
To motion, such was mine;
But never had Sappho found
A soul till she found thine;
Sappho gives the Dancer the silk scarf.Which now inspires, cures, and supplies,
And guides my darkened breast:
For thou art all that I can prize,
My joy, my life, my rest.
No bridegroom's nor crown-conqueror's mirth
To mine compared can be:
They have but pieces of this Earth,
I've all the world in thee.
Then let our flames still light and shine,
And no false fear control,
As innocent as our design,
Immortal as our soul.Katherine Philips: To My Excellent Lucasia, On Our Friendship
Sappho turns, approaches the screen and takes her seat in front of it. The female dancer climbs up onto the other tower from the Sibyl and reaches upward towards the screen, with her scarf held dramatically.
Sappho:I am the voice of the ages,The teller of visions,
The Mother of mothers,
And the memory of life.
The lights and tape slowly fade.