By Hannah Barnard, writer, choreographer, and creative director of Artists By Any Other Name's "Danse Macabre" production.
The story composed for this production represents a conceptual collaboration between Emily Petry (a fellow dancer/choreographer) and myself. The French title, Danse Macabre, literally translates to "Dance of Death." It is taken directly from from the title of Camille Saint-Saens' musical composition, which opens the Village Scene at the beginning of our drama.
The original concept of Danse Macabre was based on an old French superstition, which evolved into its own artistic genre during the late-medieval period in Europe. The superstition developed primarily in response to an overwhelming epidemic of the Black Death, a plague that mercilessly claimed the lives of anyone and everyone who stood in its path. Regardless of one's status in terms of wealth, education, or nobility, all human beings became universally united through the "Dance of Death." This legendary superstition emphasized the power of Death to level out the hierarchy of the living. Many medieval paintings and dramas depicted the personified character of Death summoning individuals from five different walks of life (a labourer, a child, a pope, a king, and an emperor) to dance together toward Death. Our own cast of characters is derived from this original set. The medieval labourer becomes our contemporary commoner; the child remains the same; the pope becomes our mystical priestess; the king becomes our Faerie Queen; the emperor becomes our narrator, who oversees the entire tale with a voice of sovereignty, yet ultimately joins the four travelers as each surrenders to her own inevitable fate.
When Emily and I set out to construct a contemporary drama rooted in this medieval allegory, we faced a number of challenging questions. How will we carry the theme of Danse Macabre all the way through an enormously varied range of musical repertoire spanning across several centuries of human history? How can we weave together such a diverse array of expressive media (music, choreography, poetry/spoken text, theatrical expression, animation) as one cohesive story line that will support the gradual development of our characters? Lastly, how does one transform the grim reality of the subject matter into an ultimately hopeful message? Is there a light of Life to be found in the depths of an old superstition designed to embrace the darkness of Death?
The answers, we hope, will reveal themselves to you over the course of our production. As the story unfolds before you, we invite you to immerse yourself in your own personal story. Just like the fictional characters of our drama, each of us will encounter a multitude of meaningful experiences throughout life as we make our own individual journeys across the "Passage of Time." The Winds of Change, the Value of a Friend, the Voice of Fear, the Shadow of Death, and the Beauty of Love comprise a timeless cast of personified characters whom we all may continue to discover, regardless of our various ages and backgrounds. Let us all come together this evening to witness the "Light...burst forth from the density of Dark/As a rainbow from the rock."