LITERATURE and dance combine in Scottish Ballet’s latest production The Crucible with Ten Poems.
The production also brings together two giants of 20th century writing, American playwright Arthur Miller and Welsh poet Dylan Thomas — who even makes an onstage appearance himself in the shape of Scottish Ballet soloist Andrew Peasgood.
In a way, at least.
Peasgood warns that the poet figure who also appears as young boy in the poem Fernhill and then as an older man, is not meant as an exact recreation of Thomas in choreographer Christopher Bruce’s piece.
This is a UK premiere for the work, which was created for German company Ballet Keil and comes to Britain just in time for the centenary of Thomas’s birth in October.
As the title suggests, this sets Bruce’s choreography against 10 of Dylan’s best known works including The Hunchback in the Park, Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night and Fernhill narrated by Thomas’s countryman Richard Burton, giving Scottish Ballet’s dancers the challenge of dancing to the rhythm of the poem rather than to music.
"It’s been really interesting as we’ve gone through the rehearsal process to see how the brain adapts," Peasgood said.
"With Richard Burton narrating these poems, the more you listen to them you get more of a lyrical sense and you start to hear the literal musical qualities in the way that he says particular words and hear where sentences crescendo and build up or where they die down. It’s really quite beautiful.
"There’s obviously no musical structure, but when you listen to it, there’s definitely a musical sense of where the dynamic is in his voice and it becomes over time quite easy to hear and interesting for a dancer to work in that way."
The structure of the piece also turns each of the poems into what amounts to a self-contained tale, Peasgood says.
"There’s a lot imagery there to help you understand these mini-stories. It’s very lyrical to watch," he added.
"There are moments where Chris could do something in a very obvious way, but he’s more subtle than that. It’s still very clear, he just doesn’t hit you in the face with it."
Peasgood admits he was not overly familiar with Thomas’s work before taking part in Bruce’s piece.
"It’s been very nice because I wasn’t very familiar with Dylan Thomas’s work before and it’s certainly something that I’m interested in now, which is great," he said.
Peasgood can also be seen in the other part of Scottish Ballet’s double bill, The Crucible, based on Miller’s classic play about the Salem witch-hunts of 16th century New England, but written with the contemporary anti-Communist McCarthy "witch-hunts" in mind.
This new work by leading US choreographer Helen Pickett is a world premiere in which Peasgood plays Francis Nurse, the husband of one of the suspected witches.
"The great thing about this evening is that everyone is going to go away taking something from it," Peasgood said.
"The way the two pieces have been put together, one with 10 poems and one with this grand music score, they are like two completely different ends of the spectrum.
"In The Crucible there is a real driving force of emotion and drama so there is a proper flow. There are moments of serenity and then there are moments where you are in the court and all hell is breaking loose and there’s a lot happening, a lot of accusations and no-one knows who to believe.
"Helen has really thought very hard about where these emotions are coming from. It’s done in a way where you can follow different characters’ stories quite clearly.
"Ten Poems has a different feel. The Crucible has one story which the audience would be following while Ten Poems is more fragments. That’s why it works so well together, because you have two very different pieces, with very different musical aspects and different costumes, the way it’s set, choreography...It’s a really rather special programme and it’s great for the dancers to have two different movement styles to perform."
• Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible with Ten Poems is at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, at 7.30pm on Tuesday 30th September and Wednesday 1st October.
There will also be pre-performance talks at 6.30pm in the Bishop’s Palace, Eden Court, which are free, but should be booked in advance. Tuesday talk will focus on music and Wednesday’s on dance.
Audience members are invited to take part in a post-show discussion on Tuesday.