The Big, the Bad, and the Wolfie
The making of “Be Afraid of Virginia Woolf”
After dancing with NEDT for several years, I decided it was time for me to choreograph for a change. Several heavy pieces already existed in our repertoire, so I wanted to do something light, and hopefully fun, for the cast as well as the audience. Fairy tales and nursery rhymes have always been dear to me, and I decided to lean on a well known story to fill in any gaps I might leave as a choreographer. The Little Red Riding Hood story started off the series as there is a lot of room for both humor and athleticism in that tale. The second installment based on the Three Little Pigs was the next logical extension, even if my treatment of it was not. Several little jokes worked their way into the pieces: some obvious, some subtle but perceptible to an attentive audience, some just for me.
The creation process for both sections of Be Afraid of Virginia Woolf, “The Girl in Red” and “In a Pig’s Eye”, was very different than how I’ve worked before, or how any of my mentors worked. Since the pieces are story driven, I started with a live-action story boarding process. I used character placement on stage to shape how I wanted the interactions to feel, then added more specific movements and levels as we progressed. From the outside, it felt a bit like watching a Polaroid develop. From the inside, I may have frustrated my dancers a bit by not giving them specific steps from the get-go. All of the dancers, however, rose to the challenge and brought their characters to life.
By working with such well known stories, the visuals were more important to me initially than specific movements. Consequently, the costumes were developed in tandem with, or even before, the movement. The most innovative costume/dance collaboration was Jenn Logan’s use of the wolf tail. I wanted an oversized tail that she could add femininity to, much like the cat from the Pepe le Pew cartoons. After some brain storming with Jenn and a few trips to hardware stores and fabric stores, the long, springy, furry tail came into being. An evening of Jenn improving with the apparatus brought about a majority of the movements that were ultimately used in both pieces.
For “The Girl in Red” the cloak was a must. Again, the costume dictated much of the movement. In many cases I was choreographing the cape and directing the dancer, Katrina Amerine, a bit like a puppeteer. As the story-boarding progressed, Katrina added more and more of her own character elements bringing to life a Red who was real, brave, and naïve bordering on ditzy; just as Red should be.
The three little pigs started with an even more exact visual seed. I wanted pigs en pointe, with the multiple tutus, and knew I wanted to use Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Three Little Maids from School” from “The Mikado.” I have to again thank Jenn for collaborating on the story-boarding process. The challenge from there was to find the additional music that fit both the narrative and the seed idea. After talking myself into and out of it several times, I settled on excerpts of the ballet music from “Faust.” Not only did I like the music, but also liked the connotation of the decent into hell as the wolf stalked and ate the pigs. Oh yes, in my mother’s version the wolf always ate the first two pigs!
There is more to come in the saga of Virginia Woolf. The exact details are still to be decided: whether she will have a suitor, or if we’ll further explore her taste for mutton and wild game.