Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's timeless novel of class, family and love, will come to life this spring in Princeton, New Jersey. American Repertory Ballet's premiere on April 21 marks one of the few times Austen's writing has appeared as a full-length story ballet. ARB artistic director and choreographer Douglas Martin told Pointe why the story, famed for its witty dialogue, makes perfect sense as dance.
What inspired you to tackle this?
I wanted a full-length ballet that could be specifically for ARB. It's hard to write a great love story, and Pride and Prejudice has many different kinds of relationships at its heart, because of the Bennet sisters. That gives me many lead couples and all kinds of ideas about how people can interact with each other.
What music are you using?
The folks at Northern Ballet in the UK also believe in the power of narrative ballet and, thanks to their choreographic lab Tell Tale Steps, they've created an opportunity for choreographers to dive into the form. If you want to take a peek into the process of creating a story ballet, don't miss the company's live stream on Thursday, June 16. There will be a panel discussion covering narrative in ballet, and the choreographers will show excerpts of their work.
This year's participants include Lucia Solari, Morgann Runacre-Temple, Tobias Batley (a Northern Ballet company member), Charlotte Edmonds (a young choreographer currently mentored by The Royal Ballet's Wayne McGregor) and Carlos Pons Guerra. The mix of ages and backgrounds is sure to yield interesting results.
Part of their mentorship team includes dramaturg Ruth Little and playwright Greg Mosse. Since dramaturgy faded from the ballet world as choreographers embraced abstraction, we're especially excited to see elements of theater and dance coming together again—all for the benefit of amazing storytelling.
Meet the choreographers below:
Biographical ballets are having a moment, finding success in the real-life stories of famous women. Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, which premiered at The Royal Ballet last May, and John Neumeier’s Duse, which premiered at Hamburg Ballet in December, were both explorations of complex personal histories. Ted Brandsen’s Mata Hari at the Dutch National Ballet, will offer another depiction of a woman who was an artist, muse and performer herself.
The sensationalized life of Mata Hari, the Dutch dancer and courtesan, has always fascinated Brandsen. She was convicted of, and executed for, spying on behalf of Germany during World War I—and has since held public imagination in the Netherlands and beyond. Her story of changing fortunes provided the perfect backdrop for a new narrative ballet, which premieres February 6. “I was looking for a subject that was intriguing and had a relationship to dance,” Brandsen says.
Brandsen is taking some artistic license, due to limited historical knowledge and the need to tell a dramatic story. Mata Hari will focus on the highlights of the Dutch performer’s career by presenting snapshots of her life story and using characters both historical and fictional.
Is it coincidence that multiple choreographers have recently found inspiration in the lives of famous women? Brandsen thinks so. “Sometimes you find there’s something in the air,” he says. “But it’s interesting and important to create new, strong roles for women and men—to create new stories. These are ballets about real people and real emotions—what drives someone to live their life. It’s easier to express in dance than in words.”
In preparation for the premiere, the Dutch National Ballet has made a series of gorgeous behind-the-scenes videos, including everything from costume fittings to choreography, to composing the score. Check them out below!