Event, Reviews

The Bodies Underneath: A Review of “Frankenstein at the Ballet”

The concept of bodies pervades the entirety of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, both living and dead, whole and fragmented. Dr. Ellen Peel, in her lecture Frankenstein at the Ballet: Mary Shelley and Her ‘Hideous Progeny,‘” makes the connection between the imagined bodies written within the novel and the real bodies of the dancers as they portray these characters in a physical representation of the imagined.

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Promotional art for the Frankenstein Ballet

Within the bounds of literature and imagination, a body can be formed by the fragments of the dead, creating a disjointed and unnatural conglomerate which exists as a singular entity never before witnessed. But on stage outside of the page, such a creature cannot be replicated (so far) in an authentic manner, but must be represented by a whole person enacting the erratic movements presumed to define such a creature. In this way, a separation exists between the imagined and the represented, wherein that which is imagined can be conceived as more real than that which is being represented in reality but cannot be made in the exact likeness of the imagined.

Out of this separation, a binary emerges between the inherent beauty of the dancer and the horrible creature he represents. Traditionally, ballet is known for the grace and beauty of the dancers, the seemingly effortless feats, and the storytelling through movement as opposed to word. In portraying Mary Shelley’s creature, the dancer, Wei Wang, has the dual job of maintaining that artistic standard while embodying this disjointed and monstrous character, performing in this in between state of beauty and the grotesque.

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Wei Wang: The SF Ballet’s Creature in Frankenstein 2018

Like the dancers, the creature is capable of superhuman feats, such as speed, strength, and durability surpassing any regular human. The dancers too possess these traits which separate them from the rest of humanity, as Dr. Peel points out, which connects these two separate binaries in that these feats can be viewed as beautiful to behold, but only when such beauty is the intent. In the case of the creature, these superhuman abilities are not so beautiful as they are terrible and unnatural based on the grievous actions the creature has committed with said abilities. The creature, thought gruesome to behold, is eloquent in speech and even reasoning, two aspects that cannot be portrayed within the ballet, which relies on movement as opposed to spoken word. In this way, the binary must be bridged by Wei Wang in that he must portray this eloquence with his body as opposed to with his speech as the creature does in the novel while maintaining the character of a deformed creature.

The subject of bodies cannot be overlooked in this physical portrayal of Shelley’s novel, as it becomes the highlight of the plot, not just through words and imaginings, but through visual representation and action. The line between beauty and the grotesque, as described by Dr. Peel, underlies the surface of the entire operation, both within and without the novel, entreating the audience and readers to consider what beauty is, and whether it can exist in harmony alongside the grotesque.



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