From May 9 through 13, Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer, her evening-length exploration of the American tale of John Henry, receives several European premieres with the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Trio Mediaeval.
May 11: UK premiere at the Barbican Center in London, part of the festival A Scream and an Outrage
Wolfe explains her work:
Steel Hammer is inspired by my love for the legends and music of Appalachia. The text is culled from the over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad. The various versions, based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales, explore the subject of human vs. machine in this quintessential American legend. Many of the facts are unclear – some say he’s from West Virginia – some say he’s from South Carolina – some say he’s from New Jersey… But regardless of the details, John Henry, wielding a steel hammer, faces the onslaught of the industrial age as his super human strength is challenged in a contest to out dig an engine. I drew upon the extreme variations of the story, fragmenting and weaving the contradictory versions of the ballad that have circulated since the late 1800s in to a new whole – at times meditating on single words or phrases – in order to tell the story of the story – to embody the simultaneous diverse paths it traveled.