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Ursa Major: A Polyphonic Masque for Speakers & Dancers 

Robert Bringhurst (Gaspereau)

First performed by a Regina dance company in 2002 and published as a book in 2003, the text draws on "several musical devices and techniques," writes the author in his preface to this reprint. These include "retrograde motion" (lines spoken front to back, back to front) and "polyphonic speech" (usually "sustained" polyphony, meaning several voices speak their parts all at once). The challenge to arrange all these voices and motions into a cohesive story and experience is worth taking. The piece tells of the origin of the great bear constellation, but also shows how various cultures tell this same story. Bringhurst writes in Cree, Greek, Latin and English. Focus on the English text alone and you're rewarded with writing that alternates between playful and considered, colloquial and poetic. And, if you understand only the Anglophone speech, the other linguistic lines become beautiful visual elements. (With the outer-jacket image of the ursine head, a detail from a wood engraving by Wesley Bates, which wraps around star-strewn cover, this is an artist book.) Lines are printed in their own type and in different colour, depending on their function in a scene. The author calls this a "voice map." Even with this guide, it's good to get lost and then to find your way.


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