- Salomé: Woman of Valor
I initially became interested in this project when Frank London, esteemed composer and bandleader of the Klezmatics, the Klezmer All-Stars and the Hasidic New Wave, approached me with the suggestion that we work on something together. I have always been fascinated by the myth of Salomé as a tragic Jewess who seems to have been violently misrepresented throughout history. As I delved deeper into the project, I discovered how frighteningly true this is and was compulsively drawn into a vertiginous engine of mythistory, her-stories. I felt obliged to open a space where Salomé was not repeatedly victimized, scapegoated and silenced, where she could occupy her own voice.
In Christian tradition, Salomé has been tagged as an evil murderess notorious for her role in beheading John the Baptist. With anti-Semitic, phallocentric fervor, she has been serially exploited by Gustave Flaubert, Charles Bryant, Oscar Wilde, Richard Strauss and Atom Egoyan, forever entrenching her in social consciousness as a dangerous woman, a female praying mantis who both literally and metaphorically cannibalizes the head of her lover. In Jewish history (Scholion to Megillat Ta‘anit, Shevat 2), however, Salomé, descended from Jewish royalty (as the daughter of Herodias by Herod II and the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee), was not typified as a villain but hailed as a hero—a freedom fighter who liberated all the Jewish noble-men Herod had imprisoned (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17:173–179; 193). A liberationist who rejoices in her sexuality, in transgressive passion, in the ardorous fervor of female eroticism.
I was smitten. And then I realized that in Hebrew, Salomé is Shulamit, from shalom: peace, fulfillment; or sheleimut: completion, perfection. Thus, in her very name, Salomé as Shulamit embodies all that is perfect, imperfect and reaching towards—and, like Shulamit in the Song of Songs, she is the lover, the bride to God’s bridegroom, kol Yisra’el, keneset Yisra’el. Salomé is the incarnation of desire.
Drenched with semi(o)tic desire and in the spirit of feminist re-visionism, I am living, breathing, celebrating her. And with jewbilicious jouissance, Salomé: Woman of Valor exists not just as a stand-alone text, but as a multidisciplinary performance, [End Page 147] with Frank London’s soaring klezmer compositions, a tribal belly dancer and screen projections featuring a conceptual re-working / distorted mashup of Charles Bryant’s 1923 black and white film, with my text overlaid.
Standing in for all that’s manifest and secret, private and public, I’m excited for Salomé to occupy a sacred space that is both private and public, secret and readable, revealed, concealed, unassailable, malleable. May Salomé finally sing the song of herself.
Salomé: Woman of Valor will have its debut performance at the Tribeca New Music Festival in New York at the Cell Theatre on May 14. The following excerpts give a taste of the whole. On the images by Anya Roz, see Judith Margolis’s article in this issue.
(Salomé to Iokhanan)
And through borders orders laws flaws codes, a discordant coterie of sanctity, censors luxury and perversion
i say come Come crowded with fluid runes perfumed and naked as echoes ripple, buzzed thirsty as plumy flumes Come gazing through aperçu ersatz bathed in micro ceremonies of dissolute amplitudes moistened with wrenched whispers, drifts
Come misty vitreous prodigal and unspeakable in lusty veils Come holy in shaded legends of puzzled ardor, martyred in the surrender of spread plummets, come hard in the curls of coiled cries a chorus of cursed whorls scorched with countenance with outlaw fictions, fluid swoons, wounded in coded collusion Come through turfed sweat words swords and lurid flurries Come ever aegis Awake in the florid gates of dazzled (d’azazeled) scars [End Page 148]
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Scapegoat: derived from the Hebrew azazel (Leviticus 16:8), literally “to be removed” or “cast out” In Temple times, the goat for Azazel was the goat that took on the sins of the community, designated to be outcast in the wilderness and left to die. Whether...