In “Love Letters of World War II,” dancers Elle C. Jones and Clinton Parfait star as Yvette and Roger, a young French couple whose relationship began while they were separated during World War II. They may have shared a secret adolescent romance while neighbors in Caen, a town in Normandy, but the courtship blossomed via exchanged letters after the war started and Roger was forced to go to a German work camp.
“He lived to get a letter from Yvette,” says Sarah Quintana.
That courtship is the basis of an EP Quintana and accordionist Christophe Lampidecchia released in France. She releases a version in the U.S. this week, and Melange Dance Company has choreographed a full-length work set to it and music of the period. “Love Letters of World War II” debuts with live music by Quintana at the Marigny Opera House Sept. 20-22.
Quintana grew up in New Orleans, and she performs in both the U.S. and France. In 2016, Julie Rouge, who produced some of her performances, shared a box of letters from her grandmother, Yvette. The letters detailed Yvette and Roger’s relationship, recording the absurdity of their situation. Roger was hit by shrapnel when the camp was bombed shortly after he arrived. Yvette wrote to him about a red handbag she wanted to buy, but she swore she wouldn’t carry it in public until he returned. Their bond grew stronger, and though it was a year after the war before they reunited, Roger walked from Brussels to Paris to be with her, Quintana says.
Quintana is interested in folk and jazz music, including musette and French jazz styles of the first half of the 20th century. Lampidecchia is interested in American early jazz styles. They received a grant to develop songs telling Roger and Yvette’s story, with Quintana providing lyrics in French. They also received a second grant to expand their work about letters exchanged by other soldiers and their loved ones.
For Melange Dance Company, founder Monica Ordonez has choreographed several works about historical figures and movements, including civil rights activists. Presented in December 2017, “Journey of Dreamers” explored the history of immigration to America, especially through New York’s Ellis Island. In June, she started working on “Love Letters.” It tells the story of two people caught up in the great forces of history.
Jones and Parfait often dance onstage together, at times in duets in which they imagine reuniting. There are 15 dancers in the show, and Ordonez keeps the stage busy, with dancers swirling around the couple and acting out parts of the story, as when Roger is dragged to the camp. During “J’Attendrai,” or “I Will Wait,” several women share a camaraderie of checking mailboxes, and there also is anxiety about when the men will come home or stray from the relationships. Other characters include an American couple separated by the war. While the songs are in French, there are English translations and voiced-over narratives.
“Love Letters” also addresses what comes after the war, and how they might change the world they’ll have to rebuild. Roger and Yvette’s town of Caen was almost destroyed during the war.
There also were personal changes. When Roger came home from the war, his family noticed he would sing, which he had not done before. In a letter to Yvette, Roger explained, “When one is in love, it’s not the same.”