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Why Tempest? plus interview with Kidd Pivot artistic director Crystal Pite

In this video, Kidd Pivot artistic director Crystal Pite discusses her approach to choreography, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and motherhood.

Editor’s note: Integrating movement, original music, text, and rich visual design, Kidd Pivot’s dance theater work is assembled with recklessness and rigor, balancing sharp exactitude with irreverence and risk. The Tempest Replica is based on motifs from Shakespeare’s play. The note that follows explores some of the connections between the play and the work.

[Crystal Pite’s] original aim was to work with an existing script and explore narrative in dance without resorting to choreographic storytelling clichés. The decision to base her new work on motifs from Shakespeare’s The Tempest did not materialize until the night before she began physically working with the dancers in the studio. She created the piece in seven weeks.

Pite sees Shakespeare’s play as being about a magician/artist/creator (Prospero) who renounces his magic, power, ambition and impulses for revenge for the sake of his daughter. It is no coincidence that Crystal Pite became a mother shortly before beginning work on this piece and that these themes reflect her own issues resolving family and humanity versus ambition and art.

Pite introduces faceless chalk-white “replicas” to deliver the essential plot points of the story, but the emotion and tension of the narrative are fleshed out by the real characters. In her notes on the piece, Pite says: the work “presents Shakespeare’s play in two parallel worlds. Firstly, the play is represented as an on-stage storyboard, with the plot points of the narrative delivered minimally, through the gestures, postures, and configurations of the faceless body inside a maquette-like space. Secondly, the play is explored through a series of portraits—the characters and relationships from The Tempest are manifested through fierce physical language and emotion.

“The themes of Shakespeare’s The Tempest are resonant and beautiful. A magician bent on revenge ultimately decides to choose virtue over vengeance, relinquishing his power and ambition in order to find his humanity. Prospero’s relationship to his muse, Ariel, and his monster, Caliban, is the relationship of any creator to his work, passion, obsession. The relationships between the civilized and the wild echo the tension between the conscious and the unconscious, the instinct and the intellect. The Island, like the mind, is a place of mystery, spirit and ego.”

Notice that the “replicas”—doppelgängers of the Shakespeare characters—suggest paper sketches (reflected in the backdrop that looks like slightly crumpled paper). The story’s exposition is delivered through the “replicas” and the shadow puppetry in the beginning of the piece. Gradually, each “replica” evolves into the character that interacts with Prospero. By the final curtain, all of the replicas return as Prospero —as a copy or echo of him—and you’ll see a reprise of the storm that opened the story.

Is this the personal “storm” that Crystal Pite is navigating in her own life to balance life and art?

Note by Miguel Romero, Professor, Scenic Design, Theater Department, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Courtesy of Kidd Pivot.

Interview footage courtesy of Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College.