As part of their 50th anniversary Scottish Ballet presents the world premiere of The Crucible by Arthur Miller, choreographed by Helen Pickett, from 3 – 5 August at the Edinburgh International Festival ahead of a Scottish tour.
Dance at this year’s Edinburgh Festival opens with your brand-new take on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for Scottish Ballet. Do tell us all about it and what we should expect…
From the moment Christopher Hampson asked me to create a full-length of The Crucible, I knew I wanted the ballet to have the dramatic emotional momentum that the play delivers.
The action tumbles and sputters, as it trips over its contradictions, spikes with adulterous desire, slows to a terrifying halt, flows with transcendent love, is pedantic with faith, and is solidly courageous.
The spectrum of humanity is alive in Miller’s characters, and the relationships and circumstances they find themselves in, are at the heart of the ballet.
I chose to shape some of the women’s characters with more defiance, and choreograph bigger roles for them; giving them more power in response to the fact that mostly women were persecuted and killed during the witch trials.
Whilst I felt Miller’s focus on what can, and does, happen when choices are made through fear and ignorance could not be ignored, I also knew from the beginning, that I wanted to choreograph the light in the community; the playfulness of the children, the deep love, and the overt courage that was absolutely present.
Our version, and this is one of the great virtues of dance, brings the inferred actions to life. These actions are the catalysts to the ensuing drama, and by dancing these events into life; we create a ballet akin to a cliffhanger.
You and Scottish Ballet ran three secret preview shows (at the Glasgow Theatre Royal) last autumn for friends and ballet lovers, after which the audience provided much feedback. How did you find the process and what did you learn?
Firstly, the very fact that we had previews for the ballet was remarkable! It does not happen in the ballet world. James Bonas, the Artistic Collaborator, and I worked side by side for the entire project, and we both knew that these previews were a way to view the work critically so we could dive into edits in early July. The audiences’ comments figured into the editing process. Our chief aims: clarity and momentum of the story, and the human beings that were to embody these courageous and passionate characters.
What’s your creative process in the studio? Do you have nearly all the movement worked out beforehand?
A collaborative, inclusive environment invites and supports a fertile creative process, and within this milieu so very much can happen. Laughter and focused work dance side by side in the studio.
I gather movement ideas in multiple ways, from various directions. Arthur Miller’s words deliver a vigorous momentum, and I used that to reflect the energy in the movement, whilst Peter Salem’s new score drives that momentum further.
Months before I entered the ballet studio, Salem’s composition inspired a multitude of choreographic concepts. I made notes about these ideas, but they came to life in the studio with the dancers on day one.
In addition, the character analysis, the research James and I did, inspired movement particular to each character. And the physical location, in Danvers, Massachusetts, of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, its history, the landscape, and the architecture, was a great source of inspiration.
How would you describe your choreographic style? And who are your dance heroes?
Hmmm … a hybrid of the classical idiom. The possibilities of the human form interest me. I steer away from the wrong or right position and navigate toward the endless potential of a particular movement. The word I use most these days is negotiation. How do you negotiate yourself in/around/toward movement. I also choreograph the way I understand movement, which I recognize as a hybrid of all FORMS of life.
I keep two quotes close at all times: Immanuel Kant’s, ‘Space is pure intuition’, and Louis Pasteur’s, ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.’
Certainly, one of my dance heroes is William Forsythe. The entire Scottish Ballet are all dance heroes too. I would venture to say that dancers, in general, are my heroes because risk takers are heroic. Courage, in ballet or otherwise, is a beacon of light for me.
You are much in demand – what have you got coming up after The Crucible…
I return to Boston Ballet with two works, and I start a new relationship with Alberta Ballet. I am researching three new full-length ideas that have yet to find a home! I do like to live with stories for a while so I can dig into the interstices and discover the movement.