Scottish Ballet in The Crucible,. Photo by Jane Hobson, via Spoleto Festival USA.

The Scottish Ballet brings a dazzling production of “The Crucible” to Spoleto Festival USA.

Choreographer Helen Pickett’s bold, full-length ballet captivates audiences with its psychological and theatrical power. It’s a reimagining of Arthur Miller’s play — one of the best-known classics of American literature — except instead of dialogue, the story unfolds with surprising new layers through movement. 

In telling the story of a New England so gripped by hysteria they killed many of their own residents, “The Crucible” explores the tension between the repressive forces of a social order and individual freedom. The ensemble of dancers expertly shifted between scenes of group hysteria and personal anguish, moving flawlessly in sync with one another – that is, until someone is accused and thrown into the spotlight. 

The great emotional force in those moments of exclusion points out the antagonist as broadly the town and its theocracy, where moral laws and state laws are one and the same: sin and the status of an individual’s soul are matters of public concern. Deviation from social norms represents a threat not only to the public good, but also to the rule of God and true religion.

The romance between Abigail and John Proctor is what ignites the production’s witch hunt that eventually becomes a raging fire. The first instance of so-called witchcraft is when Abigail and her friends go into the woods to set a curse on Elizabeth Proctor and the girls are discovered by the Reverend Hale. The set, a huge, four-paneled square hanging above the stage, tilts at different angles to impressively transform from the edge of the village, to the Proctor’s home, to the center of the trials, the church, and in each instance, drives home a bleak and foreboding landscape.

In their first dance together, Abigail and John Proctor almost seemed to be falling into each other, flowing like water between each other’s grasp; communicating to the audience how the characters couldn’t help their lust for one another. This is in stark contrast to the dance between John and Elizabeth, another expression of longing but in more tense movements, pointing to martial pain and deep resentments. The emotions of the character’s experiences are explored deeply through Pickett’s expressive choreography. 

Once Abigail admits to witchcraft, the fire begins to spread, made palpable through the steadily- rising tension in the composer Peter Salem’s haunting score. The gloomy atmosphere was wonderfully complimented by its dissonant harmonies, punctuated in moments with visceral screams from the dancers. 

When the final act sees the day of reckoning, where the accused are taken to the gallows, John Proctor, in a final act of defiance, decides to rip up his confession of witchcraft. Signing his death warrant in doing so, Proctor reasserts his identity as an individual and takes a step toward restoring his community to sanity. 

The dark and light of this seminal story was brought to life in a new and provoking way through this production, an unforgettable showcase of the Scottish Ballet’s daring artistic vision. 

IF YOU PLAN TO GO: The remaining show is  2 p.m. June 4 at the Charleston Gaillard Center. Tickets range from $35- $137. 

Chloe Hogan is contributing arts editor for the Charleston City Paper.

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