Bella: The Colour of Love

New show marries text, movement, song and the art of Chagall

BELLA: THE COLOUR OF LOVE by Mary Kerr and Theresa Tova, directed by Danny Grossman, with Tova. Presented by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre at the Studio Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge). Opens Tuesday (October 21) and runs to November 2 see for schedule. $63. 1-855-985-2787.

It’s flattering to be the muse of a great creator, but what if the muse also wants to be an artist?

That was the case with Bella Chagall, wife of Marc Chagall and arguably the most important inspiration in his paintings.

She’s the subject of Bella: The Colour Of Love, by Mary Kerr and Theresa Tova, which marries text, movement, song and the canvases of Chagall.

“They were both from the Russian town of Vitebsk, she from a rich family and he from a poor one,” says Tova, who plays Bella in the Harold Green Jewish Theatre production. “She was enamoured from the first with this wild, blue-eyed animalistic creature who saw the world differently from other people. One of the top four students in Russia, Bella worked in theatre with Stanislavski while Marc painted and went off to Paris without her.

“Eventually, when they married, she gave up everything for him, to book him and be his agent. I think she gave up acting onstage for another role, that of stage manager of Marc’s life and work. He totally relied on her nothing left his studio without her approval.”

The play follows their lives together from their teen years in Russia to Paris and later America, where they moved when Hitler came to power.

Kerr, the work’s co-author and a theatre designer who lives in Victoria, wrote her thesis in art school on the couple, and she’s been fascinated with them ever since. Tova discovered Bella through an English translation of one of her two books of stories, but wasn’t much drawn to the Russian woman until reading her second book in the original Yiddish

“That’s when I realized her art was lyrical and poetic, something that could be turned into something for the stage. Her husband said that her words were like a wash of colour on a canvas. I think her writing style has its parallels in his painting style: a little here, a little there and you eventually start to take the whole structure in after you’ve observed the details.”

Kerr curated the visuals, paintings that sometimes place Tova’s Bella in Marc’s canvases. The only pictures used in the show are those that were done under Bella’s influence.

But paintings and text are only two of the four disciplines that make up the show. There’s also director Danny Grossman’s realistic movement and music by Matt Herskowitz, who’s composed songs and also plays live to underscore the evening.

“The production is a discussion between the lovers and their struggles as artists in the first half of the 20th century. It takes in the Bolshevik Rebellion, the artists’ revolution in Russia, the 20s in Montmartre and all the wonderful people and artistic movements the Chagalls discovered there. Bella and Marc were always at the epicentre of the events whirling around them.”

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