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Janet Roston Directs And Choreographs Novel Take On Life Of Famed Diarist Anais Nin

Posted: Friday, August 26, 2016 – 8:46 PM

The life of Anais Nin, the renowned diarist who broke boundaries writing about sex, passion and creativity, and who had an intense affair with Henry Miller (Tropic Of Cancer), has long held fascination for writers and filmmakers. 

Now resident and choreographer Janet Roston (BHHS Dance Company artistic director for 24 years) and composer/lyricist Cindy Shapiro have created their own way to tell her story and a new term in the process with their Anais—A Dance Opera. The new production opens tomorrow and will run through Sunday, Sept. 18 at the Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave.

“No one’s ever done’s something like this before,” says Roston.

Shapiro and Roston’s show has a single vocalist representing “Eternal Anais,” singing the show “with a hand mic like a rock star,” against  kinetic projections by Joe LaRue of excerpts from her dairies and groundbreaking erotica, plus the all the  lyrics.

Six dancers play Nin, Miller, Nin’s husband Hugh Parker Guilery, her second husband plus ensemble roles in the story which takes her from a naive young housewife into Paris café society where she emerged as an important literary figure in the ‘30s, through her life in the U.S. during and after WWII, to her death and its aftermath in the ‘70s. Her adventures of self-exploration led her through numerous simultaneous relationships, anonymous and random sexual encounters (at times dressed as a man) bigamy and great deceptions she kept track of using what she called her “lie box.” (The title of on of 16 songs Shapiro has composed for the show).

“I feel like her story, about the empowerment of women, still resonates today,” says Roston. “It has a big appeal for a wide age group. Her life has a message for young women gaining self-world and being strong within themselves. Women in my generation all read her.

“She saw women as a sexual beings, just like men, who shouldn’t be stigmatized for that,” says Roston. “She lived a free life and stayed married her entire life. Her husband either had blinders on or looked the other way and just didn’t see what she was doing and just loved her and gave her stability and comfort; and she needed more.” Nin married a second many was married to two men at once and traveld from coast to coast to see them.

“It looks outrageous,” says Roston, “but she believed in a woman’s right to do what she thought was important and to have strength. You can’t condone what she did, but it says a lot about a woman in a man’s world.”

The journey of the production began when Roston’s manager Victoria Morris introduced the two women. “She thought we would be like-minded,” Roston recounts. “Cindy was a ‘90s rocker, so I asked her to give me every piece of music she’d ever written.” 

A piece called Henry got Roston’s attention. When she asked if it was about Nin and Miller and got a positive response, Roston was intrigued. “I knew that would make a good story and theme. And we developed the whole show.”

Shapiro, whose history includes being a cantor at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, has created a score, Roston says, encompassing alternative rock, “with the sweeping feel of Tori Amos or Kate Bush, a ‘20s style Charleston for when newly married Nin was shocked by Parisian society, and Jean “Django” Reinhardt-style gypsy jazz to evoke the café society days when Nin hobnobbed with Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Her choreography  is contemporary with sections inspired by vintage dance and nods to the styles of story’s periods and even includes a Folies Bergére number. “I think people are going to enjoy the music and dance,” says Roston, who won an Ovation Award for the Celebration Theatre production of The Color Purple. “This show is big, luscious, romantic and sexy.”

Roston loved working with The Dance Company, she says and also choreographed musicals at BHHS. She’s stayed close with many of her former dancers. “They’re like my family. And now they’re grown up with kids of their own.  She’s proud that she brought men into the dance program and “got to train athletes and other non-dancers to move onstage.”

An 18-year resident, Roston is one of the organizers—along with Karyn Newman, Cindy Trangsrud and Alissa Roston—of the annual 400 S. Camden Dr. Block Party with games and contests. “We have the best block,” Roston says.

Researching  for the  libretto,  Roston and Shapiro realist that “Nin’s deepest and most passionate relationship was with herself,” says Roston “She was the ‘original blogger.’  She started  her diary when was very young and kept  it her entire life.” Interest in Nin’s life means another of her diaries will be published next year, Roston reports. 

With the support of the Anais Nin Trust, the show took the writers to UCLA, which houses her diaries and papers. “They brought out her original diaries and it was amazing and we were so reverent. It was interesting to see how her writing started out perfectly in line and all the same color and then got bigger and more erratic with changes in color.” The diary entry with the line, “I’ve met Henry Miller,” graces the show’s poster. Going through one dairy, Roston says, she came across a piece of onion-skin paper tucked between the pages. It turned out to be a letter to Nin from Miller. “I couldn’t believe I was actually touching it.”

Before the Sept. 10 performance, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., a panel of Nin scholars, and some who new her, will discuss the author.

Performances will be at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more information, visit

Steve Simmons

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