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Caliban (Act I) [1977]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0434
Run Time
0h 37m 32s
Date Produced
"Caliban" is a full-length rock'n'roll ballet inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, choreographed by James Clouser.  It premiered in May 1976, danced by the Houston Ballet, with music by the band St. Elmo's Fire.  Its Chicago premiere, danced by the Chicago Ballet, occurred on Thursday, October 13, 1977 at the Medinah Temple.

This video appears to represent a rehearsal of Act I from the ballet, likely performed by the Chicago Opera ballet in 1977 before its local premiere.  All dancers wear practice clothes.  The whole video is somewhat dark and difficult to make out.
The video begins with a shot of a stage, onto which a large group of dancers enters and begins an ensemble dance, a fusion in style between ballet and popular dance.  Many dancers then drop to the floor while the rest dance across the stage in small groups of two or three.  They then seem to congregate in an upstage corner, where all seem to be reaching up and/or bowing down to a tall, imposing figure standing on a pedestal. Eventually, one of the dancers is lifted and carried across stage while holding a large doll/idol; the group of worshippers follows behind.  The remaining dancers take turns performing at center in groups of about five.

A male commanding figure (Prospero?) then emerges and sends most of the dancers upstage to dance in a tight group, and also directs one dancer to drag another across the (down)stage.  As he leads them offstage, another dancer performs a solo behind them and then fades into the larger group, which begins to disperse and break off into groups again.  Eventually, all exit and the dancer holding the idol runs across stage, carrying with him a rope that he leaves there.

Another dancer crawls onstage and grasps at the rope, using it to slowly pull himself upstage, as if pulling himself to land from the water. He stops short, however, lets go fo the rope, and begins a series of falls to the ground, as if to demonstrate weakness and exhaustion. He then stands up and begins dancing a dramatic solo.  As he collapses again and seems unable to pull himself up, another dancer enters and performs a solo around him. These two then fade into the background as a large group of dancers enters, many on their knees and appearing to represent a sailing ship.  In the center stands a ship's captain (perhaps Alonso?), behind whom once again stands the dancer with the doll/idol. Soon, the kneeling dancers stand up and a somewhat chaotic ensemble dance, again involving the rope, unfolds throughout the stage.  Eventually, all but a few dancers retreat to an upstage corner; downstage stands the leader (Prospero?) again, and a subject bows to him. The two exit, leaving a third downstage dancer holding a cloak, which he courageously puts on; he then exits as well.

One dancer than emerges from the upstage cluster.  He holds not one, but two doll/idols and dances a brief solo with them.  He, too, retreats back to the corner as Prospero enters and subjugates the man who had the nerve to put on the cloak, after which he dances a solo.  Soon, the dancer with the idols joins and circles Prospero.  At one point he places the two idols on top of Prospero when he has fallen to the ground, and they seem to weigh him down too much to rise.  The dancer then removes them, however, allowing Prospero to continue his solo.  The group of dancers upstage suddenly runs to him when he performs a tour en l'air downstage.  Before long, they scurry back upstage and the dancer with the idols exits.

Prospero is suddenly enraptured by the entrance of a single female dancer (his daughter Miranda?) from upstage.  When she reaches him, she takes his hand, soon letting go again to perform an introductory solo to their pas de deux. As they dance together, one of Prospero's subjects (Caliban?) crawls forth and reaches up to Miranda, as if to beg for something.  Prospero prevents her from responding, and the two continue to dance together.  Eventually, Caliban grabs at Miranda's foot as they stand together and Prospero loses his patience: he stomps on the Caliban and sends Miranda to the back curtain, commanding Caliban to carry the remaining bodies offstage.  He does so, one at a time, while Prospero and Miranda look on and restart their pas de deux.

Prospero soon leaves Miranda downstage and walks away from her; while Caliban is still transporting bodies upstage, another male figure enters and dances an introductory solo before bowing to Prospero, who acknowledges him and then exits.  This new dancer then hurls a prisoner (Alonso? His son Ferdinand?) onstage and brings Miranda to him.  After just a moment, he partners her offstage and leaves the prisoner on the ground.  The man then stands, attempts to get his bearings, and dances a solo.  The videotape then hits a damaged section that is difficult to make out; afterwards, the solo continues and the prisoner is joined by Miranda for a pas de deux.  While they dance, the pedestal figure returns and the idol/dolls are whisked across stage. A worshipper of the pedestal figure is then sent forth to join the couple, briefly partners the woman, and then ushers her offstage when the prisoner isn't looking.

As the prisoner sits collapsed on the ground once again, Prospero returns and the prisoner begins slinking away in fear. Miranda also returns and coaxes Prospero away from him; the two men then take turns partnering her, with Prospero winning out eventually. He then commands the prisoner to begin moving bodies back to their original corner and places Miranda up on the pedestal. Once the prisoner finishes transporting all of the bodies, the three of them and the bodies all exit and another two male dancers enter downstage; the idol/dolls are carried across behind them. The two follow the idols and seem to taunt them as they return to the stage.

The two entangle themselves with a crouching figure and its scarf, eventually running away as a pedestal figure (Prospero?) and a horde of worshippers reenter the stage. The video encounters another period of damage, but some amount of chaos seems to break out. When the image quality is restored, the two male dancers are once again interacting with the scarved figure, seeming to bicker over what to do next. Some sort of exchange occurs, and the three wander over to a downstage corner and collapse, as if drunk or drugged. A new group of four dancers then slowly enters from upstage and performs an ensemble dance. Eventually, one of the collapsed dancers rises and joins them. As  they complete the dance, he returns to his collapsed companions in one downstage corner, and the group of four retreats to the other. The video ends there.
Additional Credit
Clouser, James (is choreographer)
St. Elmo's Fire (music)