The House of Bernarda Alba and Lady of The Camellias. Two ballets set in completely different times and places, their stories written by authors who never crossed paths, choreographed by bodies of entirely different styles of movement…yet somehow so complementary. While the communal theme seems to be darkness (both ballets begin with a funeral and end in death) secrecy and betrayal manifest differently in each, one ballet masked by the false levity of a socialistic life, the other wearing its shadowy veil of oppression quite plainly.
I will be performing in both ballets this weekend, but can’t help but feel completely submerged in the powerful plot of The House of Bernarda Alba. It is by far the darkest story I have ever depicted, charged with the tragedy of a misdirected sisterhood. The female-focused ballet is actually quite an interesting exploration of the many faces of femininity.
Traditionally, in the play version of Bernarda, there are no male actors present. The story is told entirely by the family of unfortunate-looking sisters, their tyrannical mother, and a resentful yet supportive, house maid. In Plotnikov’s ballet adaptation, the sole male character appears on stage only in the second half of the ballet, echoing Federico García Lorca’s intentional absence of men from the production. Of course, the significance of male influence (or, lack there of, I suppose) is evident; Familial relationships between these poor wretched sisters are undeniably affected, and vicious drama ultimately ensues.
Not ironically, it is following the death of their own father where this story begins, removing one male figure from the Alba sisters’ lives and spawning the confusing debate of how to handle the entrance of another into the Alba home. As a powerful matriarch, their mother exhibits her most masculine attempt at running a household, reinforcing to her daughters the suggestion that femininity is a sign of weakness. Her strictly imposed 8-year mourning period inside the house represents the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. This seclusion drive the sisters to resentment and brutality.
The suppression of love and lusty longing boils up into outbreaks of jealousy, anger, and blame amongst the sisters, as the role of this coveted male character comes into question. Adela, Matirio, Amelia, Magdelena, and Angustias quite literally tear each other apart in the quest for male attention. Perhaps The House of Bernarda Alba is not truly a feminist work (its message is a far more poetic musing on the role of tragic force, in my opinion), but women’s issues and the dangerous way in which they can spur from female relationships themselves, certainly toils in its pith.
first photo by Shaun Clarke, second and third by Alex Lantz.