Crucible: a container made of a substance that can resist great heat, for melting, fusing, or calcining ores, metals, and the like; a severe test or trial; here, meaning a test designed to bring about change or reveal an individual’s true character.
The Crucible is a new ballet based on the play by Arthur Miller, brought to be performed in London for the first time by Scottish Ballet at Sadler’s Wells. Choreographed by Helen Pickett and with dedicated orchestral music scored by Peter Salem both the choreography and music successfully combine classical and contemporary genres to enhance the dramatic effect.
Miller’s play, The Crucible, takes place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and the ballet’s setting and costumes remain true to this era. Where the ballet differs from the play is that it places on stage scenes that are merely alluded to in the play. This can be confusing at times in respect of narrative and, if you have time, reading a brief account of the play, even if you think you remember it, will probably expand the enjoyment of your evening. Alternatively, you might buy and read a programme.
In this ballet, unlike in the play, we witness Proctor and Abigail’s affair with its complications bringing us insight into what Abigail does next. Also, to great effect, in a dramatic scene again merely alluded to in the play, we are shown a group of girls from Salem dancing to a naked ecstatic frenzy in midnight woods, their youthful wildness and desires on rampant display. These dances remind us of the maenads of Ancient Greek mythology and the chaos brought through the ages to society by fundamental human drives. Exactly the sort of forces and longing the repressive society created by Puritans who came to America to escape religious persecution themselves sought to contain in individuals, practising their own extreme religious intolerance. To defy the rigid authority imposed by the church and governance combined in Salem in 1692 is to defy God, punishable by hanging.
The ballet describes this superficial conformity and the desperate, enforced striving of those in the community to comply with the requirements of the church and judiciary with repeated movements, speeded up into almost impossible and nonsensical demands. The choreography in this respect brought to mind the influences of Pina Bausch.
However, inside this community of enforced values, there are individuals and sub-groups, making human mistakes with fear as well as love driving subsequent tragic choices. For in Salem there is always retribution and no scope for redemption. This ballet shows us these individuals, inside their respective cages.
There is great poignancy in the hurting and forgiving nature of tender love described in the pas de deux that takes place between Elizabeth Proctor, affectingly danced by Sophie Martin, and her mistaken foolish husband, distracted by a passing desire for another. He is believably and rumbustiously portrayed by Nicholas Shoesmith.
Abigail, his dalliance, is danced by Constance Devernay, in a role of extreme demands that she meets perfectly. The 22-strong company of dancers performing this ballet are precise in their steps, something Scottish Ballet excels at. Special mention should go to Thomas Edwards, Bruno Micchiardi, Jerome Anthony Barnes and Jamie Reid, menacingly portraying the Reverends and Judges who exert authority in Salem.
The accompanying score to the ballet is superb, often a harbinger of emotion and always a match with the choreography. At Sadler’s Wells, the ballet is accompanied by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra and there is, therefore, the great pleasure of an orchestra in the room. On opening night this was conducted by Jean-Claude Picard.
There’s no violence on stage, it’s all suggested.
Perhaps members of the audience might refrain from taking photographs with their phones during the woodland frenzy scene, it’s forbidden during a performance as well as being disrespectful to the performers.
Review by Marian Kennedy
Arthur Miller’s drama of power and persecution is brought to the Sadler’s Wells stage by Scottish Ballet.
In the village of Salem, a teenage girl imagines her future. A marriage is tested. Church bells ring, uniting the community in prayer. These are good people. This could be anywhere. They fear the shadows in the forest, but the real monsters are much closer to home.
You’ll be on the edge of your seat watching this tight-knit society unravel into chaos. Ask yourself: when everything is in the balance, what are you prepared to pay for the truth?
Helen Pickett’s choreography unleashes the emotional force of Miller’s masterpiece, vividly accompanied by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra performing Peter Salem’s haunting new score.
1 hour 45 minutes (including one 20 minute interval)
14 – 18 June 2022