Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s timeless novel of class, family and love, will come to life this spring in Princeton, New Jersey. American Repertory Ballet’s premiere on April 21 marks one of the few times Austen’s writing has appeared as a full-length story ballet. ARB artistic director and choreographer Douglas Martin told Pointe why the story, famed for its witty dialogue, makes perfect sense as dance.
What inspired you to tackle this?
I wanted a full-length ballet that could be specifically for ARB. It’s hard to write a great love story, and Pride and Prejudice has many different kinds of relationships at its heart, because of the Bennet sisters. That gives me many lead couples and all kinds of ideas about how people can interact with each other.
What music are you using?
No one has written a ballet score for this story, so I needed to find something that was not only beautiful to dance to but also reinforces the libretto. I did some research and found out that Jane Austen collected Schubert and Mendelssohn, but also a composer named Ignaz Pleyel, whose work reminds me of Mendelssohn’s melodic themes. I’ll be using his music for the score. It should remind you of the era, but the emotion needs to come through.
Will you use period movement, too?
There will be jigs, reels and minuets, but when a relationship is happening—in a ballroom scene, for example—classical steps will happen in the midst of the group.
What has it been like to go from the page to the stage?
I’ve put in about two years just trying to understand the book and figure out where to condense. Each character will need to possess a unique movement style and posture. This will define and express the character, along with the characters’ feelings toward one another. The music will also help set the emotion and pace of each scene. Lots of people have told me they can’t imagine this story as a ballet. But once you understand the emotion, it can come through the body. Dance is just another language.