By Brad Simm
Often hailed as the grandmaster of gothic literature and the first real piece of science fiction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein resonates with its feminist’s foundation and the earth-shaking probe that questions the origins and creation of life. Written when Shelley was only 18, it’s a complex tale etched deep into our psychology for more than 200 years that continues to fascinate.
Jean Grand-Maître, Alberta Ballet’s Artistic Director, is eager to bring his own adaptation of Shelley’s novel to the stage. Knowing Frankenstein is full of exotic interpretations, he too has reinvented the gothic fantasy as a dance production within a modern context.
“I was reading about the great director, Stanley Kubrick,” says Grand-Maître. “He was completely daring and not afraid to tackle different styles of cinema and lighting, from science fiction and horror to war and period pieces, and of course the ground-breaking A Clockwork Orange. All that was something I found interesting as a challenge for myself.”
In his daring new version of Frankenstein, Grand-Maître, in collaboration with his group of set and costume designers, transport the Frankenstein family from its secluded Germany castle to an upscale West Palm Beach playground (Trump territory), young Victor goes to medical school at Harvard where he creates the monster in Boston, and the chase ends at a fully-functional meteorological station in the Yukon instead of a lonely ship abandoned in the Arctic.
In working with a new aesthetic, Grand-Maître also employs a contemporary soundtrack featuring a mix of young, fresh composers, lively rock bands along with some classical music. He notes, “A soundtrack enables you to use all sounds, not just an orchestral sound. It becomes almost cinematic, more a film than it is a ballet.”
And for the first time he will use “subtitles,” as they do in operas, where dialogue runs across video screens mounted above the stage. Because Frankenstein in based in literature, Grand-Maître reveals it will be a “super high-tech production using narrative through video so the audience will understand everything that’s happening.”
Finally, the look and development of the characters receives particular attention, especially the monster inspired by the original writings of Shelley.
“It will have nothing to do with the ones we have already seen,” says Grand-Maître, referring to the incarnations found in many movies. “The monster she describes is a ‘discombobulated panther’ who moves swift and fast, but everything seems broken, which is interesting for a choreographer. But as the ballet progresses, the monster’s movements become more and more refined, almost human.”
There are many subjects and powerful themes embedded in Shelley’s fictional work that Grand-Maître strives to capture. “There’s a woman-created monster, the usurpation of a woman’s procreative power, and the world without God. If you can give life to matter, then there is no God. And when written during the Industrial Revolution, science was exploding, there were no ethics. It was a scary time. And here we are again.”
AB Ballet’s Frankenstein runs Oct. 23 to 26 in Calgary and Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 in Edmonton. Tix $50-150.