It shouldn’t work, but it does. Magnificently. Scottish Ballet’s re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, The Crucible, finds the feeling and emotional impulses beneath the words of Miller’s script, as the community of Salem is torn apart by suspicion and finger-pointing. Created by choreographer Helen Pickett, this thrilling show celebrates Scottish Ballet’s 50th anniversary and will be touring Scotland in the autumn before heading to the US.
Miller’s play, written as an allegory to highlight the anti-communist witch hunts of mid-20th century America, is a robust drama, but Pickett and composer Peter Salem find the delicacy in it too. This Salem, highlighted by David Finn’s set and lighting design, is a place on the edge, both geographically and psychologically. Shadows loom, the eerie sounds of birds in the forest are never far away, the light hits the ground like shafts thrown from the heavens themselves.
It is hugely atmospheric, and it sets just the right tone as religiosity, repression, righteousness and revenge all come together in a fatal storm. Salem’s score is haunting, as the other worldly voices of young girls singing psalms is cut with folk tunes and the techno-beat of a rave in the forest where the teenagers throw off their clothes in a hormonal rage.
Most of all, Pickett’s choreography makes real sense of the relationship between Abigail (Constance Devernay) and John Proctor (Nicholas Shoesmith), something the play neglects. Their pas de deux is sensual, sweaty and sexy, capturing all the recklessness and madness of the moment in which he betrays his beloved wife, Elisabeth (Araminta Wraith). It’s a stark contrast to Proctor’s later duets with his wife, in which guilt and betrayal seem to dance in tandem with forgiveness and reconciliation.
Abigail is not just an agent of revenge but also a victim of her desperate longing to belong. Emotionally she is still a small child, playing with doll’s houses, dreaming of a home of her own. In trying to save her future she destroys, but it’s clear that this community caged by religious dogma—the church scenes in which everyone moves in unison make you think of a cult—just needs a nudge to explode and collapse in on itself.
This is an engrossing evening, and one out of which the dancers wring every ounce of dramatic and emotional nuance. The Crucible can sometimes be a bit of a trial, but this ballet version is the real deal.