Most art, in my experience, tells a story. At times that story can be simple—perhaps nothing more than an embodiment of an idea or emotion. Some have characters, others not. The characters can be complex and deeply developed; vague and ambiguous; clear and transparent. The realm of creation is endless.
When I teach the Ballet Journeys kids camps, we spend part of our rehearsal time creating a story to present to the group’s parents at the end of the week as a part of their performance. I love this time in the camp. Those kids light up from the inside as they shout out ideas for the story. Some jump to their feet in enthusiasm. And they take me right with them. Sweep me away into their world. I am reminded that this deep rooted desire for storytelling is instinctive. The aspiration to create is born within.
Shakespeare was an expert storyteller—a master of language. Maestro of words. On August 9th through the 13th, Louisville Ballet will perform Lady Lear as a part of the Shakespeare in the Park series. As the title suggests, the ballet is derived from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Roger Creel, the choreographer, has adapted the story to fit his dancers and our wordless art form, retaining the core of the tragedy, while exploring the work through new perspectives. The audience will see the same story, but will be looking at it through a slant angle. The story is reduced to its essence and then built from its essence. The characters are condensed and genders reversed.
This week we have begun delving into our characters. I play the role of Lear’s fool. It is early in the rehearsal process, but so far, I find my character to be quirky and peculiar. I am juxtaposed with Jordan Martin’s character, Eunice, the equivalent of Edmund. Eunice embodies evil, while the Fool, renamed Fanny, equates to good. This is one of my favorite parts of the rehearsal process—developing characters. It is particularly gratifying when a new ballet is being built, because the character is being built as well. The character that we see on day one may be completely opposite from the character that appears on stage.
As I study my character and work to achieve the movement Roger creates for her, I can’t help but be reminded of my little Ballet Journeys dancers and their pure excitement in building their story. Some part of my soul is fed as I discover how to become someone else—how to tell the Fool’s story. And another part is filled with gratitude—because despite the aching muscles and bruises trailing up and down my legs—I get the opportunity to do what I love for my job. Mostly the life of a dancer is not as glamorous as it sounds, and typically it is characterized by sweat, blisters, and tears. Budgets and bills. Work and worry. However, we are given those moments when we are reminded the privilege we hold as artists. The privilege to create. The opportunity to become storytellers. We all have a story inside us—even six year olds.
In the words of the great Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”