Turn of the Screw:
How many ballerinas does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
16 : 10 to join the ‘2nd company’, or work as ‘trainees’ unpaid and do all the b*tch work at the studio, 1 to be overly dedicated and end up with a few screws loose (hello nina from black swan) , 2 to realize that life might be easier in a normal job and start working as a bank teller (screw you cruel arts world!), 1 to get screwed over when a new choreographer comes in and decides to switch casting, taking away someone’s precious solo, 1 to screw the director to ensure that she gets rehired for the next season, and 1 to be screwed up enough to keep on doing it.
Recently, I’ve been working on a libretto for a new ballet to stick in my binder of ideas. Some of them are better than others- for instance, just yesterday I was telling a friend about my ‘flip-book ballet’ idea which received instant uproarious laughter and some mad mr. roboto dance impressions. I’m going to blame it on the fact that I’m ahead of my time and not that it’s a crap idea that’s probably been done before anyway.
This new idea was sort of inspired by my love of the ballet ‘Fall River Legend’, which is based on the true story of Lizzie Borden. A friend of mine is an amazingly talented composer and musician and asked me to help him develop a new concept with a St. Louis historical theme to it. So the idea is to create a balletic/modern rendering of the story behind ‘The Lemp Mansion’- which is one of the ‘ten most haunted buildings in America’, has been featured on the popular show ‘Ghost Hunters’, and has an amazing story behind the architecture, which still serves as a popular Bed and Breakfast, and restaurant here in town.
Doing anything onstage for the ‘modern time’ section of the piece, where characters appear as ghosts or making the unexplainable parts happen, like a chair being mysteriously pulled across the room (which is cited as an example of ghost activity in the house) would, I think, be really tricky to not make it look hokey. So as I’ve been thinking about the plot line of the ballet, I’ve been searching for examples of other dance works that use gothic or ghost imagery.
First, I came across ‘Ghost Dances’ by the amazing choreographer, Christopher Bruce. (He also choreographed ‘Hush’, a funny and beautiful piece about a circus family- and I know that might sound (to reprise to the word) hokey, but it is touching, charming, and wonderfully athletic and complex in movement. It also uses Bobby McFerrin music, so it wins in my book) Anyways…
Then I thought about classic literature that has been converted to dance and the first thing that I thought of was ‘Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James, and I decided to reread the book to get a little inspiration. Plus it is a wonderful book whether you are in to gothic literature or not (I am usually not. I read ‘Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger- author of ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ and let me just say there is no ‘symmetry’ between being a New York Times Best Seller and being a work of great or even..mediocre work. total crap.But I may be swayed because I don’t buy into that stuff unless we are talking about Harry Potter ghosts- Nearly Headless Nick for the win!)
Anyways, the book has nothing to do with dance, but it is a great book and I think it is amazing seeing what pieces of literature and film are being converted into dance these days. I guess you could say the same for true stories, like what I’m attempting to do with the story of the Lemp Mansion. It’s definitely worth a read! Happy hunting- for ghosts, or books, or inspiration.