- PHOTO BY BARRY GOYETTE
- ARE YOU A GOOD WITCH, OR A BAD WITCH?: Molly Moore (pictured) and her fellow dancers leave that for the audience to decide.
The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s 1953 dramatization of the Salem witch trials, written as a reaction to McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee, is a great American play by one of the greatest American playwrights. It is a moving play, a well-written play, and one of the best examples of protest theatre this country has produced. It is not usually a sexy play.
Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo’s interpretation, however, is definitely sexy. “I want more,” urges Artistic Director Drew Silvaggio at a recent rehearsal. The studio is alive with the energy of 26 company members plus two ballerinas and two danseurs cast from outside the company. They stretch and writhe as Silvaggio tells them, “You have to be open to a new experience,” but he could just as easily be promising theatregoers, “we’re going to give you a new experience.” Because this show isn’t something you’ve seen before.
The world premiere of Civic Ballet’s The Crucible, which will run for only two performances, April 5 and 6 at Cal Poly’s Spanos Theatre, combines classical, modern, and contemporary movement styles set to music ranging from mid-century pop, to Philip Glass’ soundtrack for Mishima, to the wealth of music written about angels, devils, and the occult.
Silvaggio smiles, “I just started looking up songs about witches.”
The choice of music is extremely satisfying, and audiences will delight in recognizing old favorites choreographed in a way that defies expectations. Calling The Crucible simply a “ballet” isn’t giving this show its due—this is a full-scale dance-theatrical romp. Silvaggio describes the process of creating an original work as “two weeks of checking out” into an intensely generative state.
- PHOTO BY HENRY BRUINGTON
- THE DEVIL YOU KNOW: Betty Parris (Jenna Lee), the Reverend’s daughter, consorts with powerful forces.
His job is not only one of choreography but also of composition, beginning with the text of the play as a storyline and building a soundtrack from there. In fact, he has re-set the show in the 1950s, and his clever use of Americana and roots music adds a level of humor and kitsch entirely appropriate to the story’s foundation. Silvaggio is quick to point out that he finds the most effective productions of the Miller play are those that manage to draw out moments of levity within the seriousness of the story, and his production does the same.
“I gave Betty an exorcism,” he tells me, as well as adding a “dream ballet” examining John and Elizabeth Proctor’s courtship and a number of physical dramatizations that only exist as references in Miller’s dialogue. Taking offstage moments from the original text and bringing them to life became a great source of energy for Silvaggio, and that energy is absolutely apparent to the audience.
For Silvaggio, the realization of his vision was a definite group effort; he remarks especially on the dancers’ ability to internalize their characters’ motivations. Again and again he gushes over how grateful he is to his cast; it’s clear that the process of creating The Crucible was a true collaboration. The trick of dance is to make it look easy, but these dancers do something more—they make it look real. For the show’s roughly hour-and-a-quarter duration we are living in their world, and we are spellbound.
The dancers use their voices once, and only once, during the show—I won’t spoil it for you, but I guarantee you won’t forget it.
Although there will be moments of recognition for those familiar with the Miller play, Civic Ballet’s The Crucible is entirely its own work and requires no prior knowledge to appreciate. It is something new in the purest sense, something that has been created in Silvaggio’s imagination and in the bodies of the dancers. “It’s not going to be what you expect,” Silvaggio assures me. So expect the unexpected, and you’ll probably still be surprised.
You can accuse Arts Editor Goody Messer of witchcraft at firstname.lastname@example.org.