Story & Structure: A Dramaturge's Role
Q & A with Roasamund Small
November 8, 2019
What has been your role as dramaturge on Orpheus Alive?
I'm not from the professional dance world, I'm a playwright. So I’ve worked with Robert Binet
on the story and the structure of the piece, the motivation of the characters and theatre conventions. Since 2014 when we met, we’ve had many hours of discussion, brainstormed many ideas and worked out a storyboard with post-it notes. It’s been a wonderful collaboration with Rob, with [composer] Missy Mazzoli
and the dancers. The dancers also speak in the show, so part of my role is writing that text and directing the dancers.
Why is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice still relevant today?
Because who hasn't dreamed of getting a loved one back from the dead?
The myth is so well known – does that help or hinder your work?
It helps because we can tell our own version of the story. Rob and I are playing with the mystery – was Eurydice’s death a choice or an accident? Orpheus has so many questions and searches for knowledge and understanding. Orpheus has been forbidden to look at Eurydice but feels he must face her, must confront the truth, but fails.
What are some of the choices you and Rob have made?
Orpheus is played by a woman and Eurydice is a man. That was a big one. And we had a lightbulb moment that the audience would actually be the gods. Orpheus appeals to the gods to allow her entrance to the Underworld so our entire show is turned out, breaking the fourth wall, and speaks to the audience as Orpheus presents her story and art, trying to persuade them to let her go and get Eurydice.
The original myth usually portrays Orpheus as an effortless artistic prodigy. Rob and I didn't connect with that; we are both skeptical of myths of genius. So our Orpheus is an experienced but very flawed artist. She struggles with what to create, fails, gets frustrated and tries again. Artists are just people who make stuff, no matter how magical the stuff looks. Ballet especially rides on making human effort look god-like and easy, but of course it's hard, human work, with sweat and tears and sacrifice.
What have you learned during this process?
When I write dialogue scenes for plays, a huge hurdle is how to keep the drama onstage and never get bogged down into exposition; in dance, exposition is almost impossible. The drama must be immediate. Everything in dance is in the present for the characters – their emotions, conflict, risk and reward. So now when I write dialogue scenes for my plays, I ask myself is this scene at least a little bit danceable? Meaning, is the drama immediate and onstage? If I write a dramatic scene and absolutely nothing in it could be danced, it means that there’s something wrong with my writing, and I’ve accidentally written a conversation instead of a real dramatic scene.
Orpheus Alive & Chaconne is onstage November 15 – 21, 2019.
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