In 1948, American author Shirley Jackson got more than she bargained for when her short story "The Lottery" was first published in New Yorker magazine. A slew of initial negativity and shock was followed later by a wave of support, as individuals delved for a deeper meaning in the terrifying events described.
Jackson's work later became an American classic and was adapted for stage and film productions. The latest re-working of "The Lottery" can be seen Friday on the stage of the Capitol Theatre during the world premiere of choreographer Val Caniparoli's masterpiece ballet interpretation of the chilling story.
In the work, villagers in an early 20th century town prepare each year for a lottery to ensure good crops for the following harvest. Though all seems good-natured at first, the lottery is actually being completed to select an individual from the town to be sacrificed and stoned to death by fellow villagers.
Caniparoli said he has always wanted to present "The Lottery" as a ballet, and even received permission from Jackson's son to do so, but without the correct music or company, he kept postponing production. Finally, he collaborated with Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute, and the pair elected to commission composer Robert Moran to create an original musical score to accompany the work. Through collaborations with Moran, as well as the light, costume and set designers, the work was finally prepared for its debut after 15 years of evolution.
As if being a professional performer isn't stressful enough, in Caniparoli's work, the lottery is real, and no one knows from night to night who will be selected to be the sacrifice and complete the ballet.
"As a dancer, you don't know if you're going to be the principal dancer that night until you have to do it," he said. "No one has an idea of who is going to draw that lottery or who is going to be stoned to death."
"The tension is palpable," said Sklute. "All 14 members of the cast have to be prepared to take center stage. ... You pick lots and you can be a leading dancer no matter your role in the rest of the ballet. What this does is it creates an honest energy, excitement and anxiety on the stage. That's what I find to be really groundbreaking."
Since the show is double cast, 28 of the 36 dancers currently in Ballet West had to learn the complicated solo part at the end of "The Lottery," and won't discover until three quarters of the way through the production who will have to perform it.
"You don't even breathe at that moment," Sklute said. "There is a giant circle around the periphery of the stage ... all look around to see the one that has the big black spot. One by one they all drop their lots until there is only one standing, and then the dancer realizes."
Though it is a key part of Ballet West's season premiere, "The Lottery" is a part of a triple bill performance and is artfully placed as the centerpiece with two other works.
The program will open with a revival of Helen Pickett's romantic and beautiful work "But Never Doubt I Love," with music by Felix Mendelssohn and Fran Liszt. After a brief intermission, "The Lottery" will be presented, followed by another brief intermission.
According to Sklute, the production will close with the energetic, exciting and dramatic piece, "Bolero," by Ballet West's resident choreographer, Nicolo Fonte, featuring the musical work of Maurice Ravel.
"We are presenting three contemporary pieces of choreography, one brand new and just premiering, and two works just done in the last couple of years," Sklute said. "All are unique, diverse, and different, and will present the audience with a view of what classical ballet is now, in the 21st century."