‘Arthur’ mixes ballet and myth

“Arthur” translates the emotions surrounding the King Arthur legend into movement.
“Arthur” translates the emotions surrounding the King Arthur legend into movement. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

Breaking: Yale’s sorcerers take on ballet.

The April 5 debut of “Arthur,” an original ballet by undergraduate Amymarie Bartholomew ’13, will mark the first time the story of King Arthur and his court at Camelot are performed as a ballet. The Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company will hold two performances of Bartholomew’s piece at the Co-Op Theater. By translating the text of King Arthur into dance, Bartholomew and YUBC will provide the audience with not only a unique ballet-viewing experience but also new perspective on the legend.

“Familiar myths translated from literature to dance add another layer and bring something entirely new you wouldn’t have gotten out of a myth that you thought you knew before,” said Karlanna Lewis LAW ’15, a dancer in the show.

Lewis said that by communicating the story through movements and immediate feelings, ballet adds a transcendental aspect to the legend. Exploring themes of free will, determination, choice and destruction without words forces the audience to consider the tale in a new light.

“There are no mothers-in-law in ballet — there’s no way to directly say, ‘This is so-and-so’s mother-in-law,’” Bartholomew said. “Everything is visual in a ballet, so a lot relies on the audience being able to see things clearly.”

To make obvious the storyline, each performer must take on the dual roles of dancer and actor. The plot unfolds through exaggerated expressions and dramatic movements, in addition to stage tricks like hiding a dancer behind a tree so that only the audience is aware of his or her presence.

As the founder and president of YUBC, Bartholomew knows her dancers’ strengths and weaknesses and cast them based on their skills. She said she cast postgraduate associate Chris Cho as Arthur because she knew he is committed to his acting emotions. Bartholomew’s familiarity with her dancers also allowed them some artistic license with the choreography; small subsections of the hour-long ballet were choreographed by the dancers themselves.

“You are part of the process — it’s more collaborative,” Lewis said. “You’re not molding yourself to something preexisting. Everything is fusing at that moment, and everyone brings something to the vision.”

Lewis said that by catering to the preferences of the dancers, Bartholomew made the ballet a more personal experience for members of the company.

Cho said that in order to travel back through the centuries and become a character of antiquity, he had to explore foreign feelings — from learning how to rule a kingdom to receiving the mythical sword Excalibur — along with the timeless emotions of betrayal and unreciprocated love. He explained that the acting process required him to reflect on personal experiences and channel thoughts and emotions relevant to King Arthur’s character into movement.

“I think people have a misconceived notion of what ballet is like — girls in tutus walking on tippy-toes across the stage,” Cho said. “[‘Arthur’ shows] how powerful and raw and real ballet can be, too.”

Cho said he thinks communicating the emotions of King Arthur through movement makes the scenes more dynamic. Two characters in love dancing a duet are able to express their feelings to the audience through the intimacy of their touch rather than a kiss onstage.

YUBC was founded in the spring of 2011.

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