DanceLondonReview

The Crucible – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

Reviewer: Chris Lilly

Choreographer: Helen Pickett

Composer: Peter Salem

Conductor: Jean-Claude Picard

Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible was written in 1953, when many of Miller’s friends were confessing imaginary sins, and implicating their former friends, in front of Senator McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Crucially, it is a play about the importance of words: accusation, protestations of innocence, lying. And the significance of a person’s name, spoken, written. The central character, John Proctor, places so much weight on his name that he will die to preserve it.

On the face of it, a play where words occupy so central a place seems an unlikely subject for a wordless dance piece. Choreographer/director Helen Pickett and her artistic collaborator James Bonas, have chosen to re-focus the ballet on emotional more than political betrayal. Proctor betrays his wife Elizabeth with their servant Abigail. Elizabeth discovers the betrayal, expels Abigail, and the events that follow stem from Abigail’s revenge. If it’s hard to dance the implications of signing a confession, it’s much easier to dance attraction and betrayal, anguish and forgiveness.

The company sets angular, restricted movements by the Puritan establishment, against whirling, chaotic, wild movement by the girls inspired to testify against the neighbours. Constance Devernay dances as Abigail, and she brings confusion and tenderness into her character – Abigail is very young, and very alone, and really has no idea what kind of storm she is helping to brew. The sympathy for the character is enhanced by just how exciting the dancing is.

On this same stage in the previous week, The Rite of Spring had been enacted, and some of that energy seems to propel Devernay and her five companions. In marked contrast, Nicholas Shoesmith and Sophie Martin chart the relationship of John and Elizabeth Proctor in a series of pas de deux that punctuate the story; dances that reveal anger and betrayal, forgiveness, passion, sorrow. The question of how far a ballet can carry a narrative is answered in large part by the clarity, and the delicacy, with which Martin and Shoesmith investigate and illustrate a complex and awkward relationship.

The lighting, costuming, and extraordinary set, (Emma Kingsbury for set and costume, and David Finn for set and lighting design), give a clear context for the events – the domestic interiors, stark court-room, surrounding forest, all clearly indicated but never over-stated, and the over-arching panels, the stark side-light, and the shadowy, secretive ambience, give a context for hysteria and injustice. The composer Peter Salem blends live orchestral playing with electronic music and a palette of found sounds that underpins the mood. The composer’s surname is a happy accident.

The decision to focus on the emotional journeys of the principals reduces the significance of the court-room where Miller’s play explodes, but the wrenching loss displayed in John and Elizabeth’s farewell dance comes from the emotional charge of talented dancers in harmony. The result is perhaps less nuanced than Miller’s play, and less of an indictment of McCarthyite demagoguery, but it holds a strong emotional charge, and that is no small thing.

Runs until 18 June 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Emotional, effective, elegant

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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