I decided a few years ago that I want to write a ballet for a percussion ensemble and it finally came up in my composition queue (more on that in another post). The first thing is to settle on a story. Now, I thought the term libretto only applied to the lyrical text for an opera or cantata, but apparently it’s also applied to the narrative text of a ballet.
I was mulling over a few basic ideas and eventually settled on the story below. I won’t pretend the story is super clever, or a game changer, or full of witty literary devices. These were my goals for this story:
- Visually interesting
- Able to fully understood without dialogue
- Because I’m dealing with real historical cultures, avoid cliches and any negative portrayals that originate from stereotypes
I believe I’m satisfied with the libretto, so here’s the version I’ll be working with during the composition process.
- Aiyanna – a young indigenous girl
- Heka’atiwke – the malicious forest spirit
- Clemence – a midwife, wife to Ezra
- Ezra – a respected farmer and husband to Clemence
- Kowane – an androgynous medicine man from Aiyanna’s tribe
- The Occultists
- The Villagers
Occultists have kidnapped a young indeginous girl, Aiyanna, from her tribe. They secure her between two posts and in the light of a blood moon they perform an obscene ritual to summon Heka’atikwe, an evil forest spirit. Upon hearing the dry rattle of its approach, the occultists flee. Aiyanna awakens and works her way free of her bindings before escaping just as the antlered shadow of Heka’atikwe appears, framed by the moon.
Act I – Summer
Summer has just begun. Ezra and his wife, Clemence, work in their field, aided by the other villagers. Aiyanna suddenly appears, wounded and exhausted. The villagers are alarmed, but she collapses and Clemence rushes to her aid. Despite the protests of the other villagers, Ezra carries Aiyanna back to their home so that Clemence can help her recover.
Night falls and Heka’atikwe appears just outside their home seeking to retrieve its escaped sacrifice. It attacks Ezra while Clemence flees with Aiyanna into the village. The villagers band together to defend them but Heka’atikwe’s terrifying visage breaks their resolve, leaving Clemence alone to stand between the evil spirit and its prey. As Heka’atikwe advances, Ezra returns and repels the spirit with fire.
Act II – Fall
Several months pass as Aiyanna full recovers. A tracking party from Aiyanna’s tribe come to village in search for the kidnapped girl. They are lead by an androgynous medicine man named Kowané. The tribespeople are greatly relieved to see her safe and she tells them of her kidnapping, subsequent escape, and how the villagers protected her. The tribespeople and the villagers celebrate this happy resolution together with a feast. Kowané and his companions perform a ritual and install a totem in the village center to protect the village and keep evil away. Aiyanna personally thanks Ezra and Clemence for their generosity by giving Clemence her necklace. The three embrace before the tribespeople depart from the village, having strengthened the bond between them.
Act III – Winter
A hard winter storm has come, with screaming winds and vicious lightning. The villagers are weathering the storm in the safety of their homes. Ezra and Clemence reminisce about the happy few months when Aiyanna stayed with them, as if she were there own child. Although they don’t give voice to their feelings they both mourn their childless marriage. Homebound by the storm, no one in the village notices when the storm shatters the protective totem in the center of town . . .
Heka’atikwe falls on the vulnerable village like a wolf upon its prey. The evil spirit exacts cruel revenge on anyone who stood between him and his sacrifice. It comes at last to the home of Ezra and Clemence. Ezra attempts to repel Heka’atikwe with fire once more but a blast of wind extinguishes the flames, leaving them in ominous darkness.
Act IV – Spring
Kowané and Aiyanna return to the village in spring only to find everything in ruins. The villagers are lost and shambling, covered in dark, leafy shrouds. After discovering the broken pieces of the totem, Kowané immediately recognizes this as the work of Heka’atikwe. He is ready to flee the cursed village but Aiyanna recognizes Ezra and Clemence. She weeps to see them in such a sad state. Despite Kowané’s warning, she embraces them and expresses her love for them as if they were her own parents. Their familial bond is strong enough to break Heka’atikwe’s curse. Ezra and Clemence are returned to their former selves and rejoice at being united with Aiyanna. The four of them leave, happy to have survived their ordeal, although the village is lost.
So that’s where the story stands. I definitely need to shape it up and adjust the final language but the story will certainly change as the ballet develops. Finalizing the libretto will probably be one of the final steps. The next step for now is to outline the compositions. That’s the part of the process where the story is most likely to change. There’s also a strong chance that if I ever actually reach a point where this work is being choreographed, the director or choreographer may decide that certain pieces or elements just don’t work well and need to be cut or changed. I’m certainly open to that. At this point in my life/career, I would just be thrilled to have a ballet company actually consider staging this.
As soon as this post is published I’m going to start the composition outline, which will involve setting story segments to music.