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Caliban (Acts II & III) [1977]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0443
Run Time
0h 45m 23s
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 II (a dream sequence in which Caliban takes control of Prospero's island and holds Prospero's daughter as his mistress) and Act III (Prospero throws a betrothal party for his daughter while Caliban fails to actually take over the island) 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 on which a group of four dancers runs from center to the downstage right corner and picks up a fifth dancer; they repeat this trajectory a second time, picking up two more dancers along the way. One dancer then points upstage and the music begins as a dancer from this group jetés to the upstage corner and fetches the group of dancers posed there, seemingly bowed down to a figure on a pedestal there. Now all downstage, the dancers are split into a group standing with arms up while holding hands (these are six of the original seven) and one group moving about on the floor. The seventh of the original dancers stands upstage of them, directing the floor group. As the standing group begins to encircle the sitting group, the leader (Caliban?) runs back upstage and pulls out another single dancer via the long rope tied to his waist.

The sitting group then scurries back upstage to join the roped figure in worshipping the pedestal figure, who then sends them all away.  Caliban then approaches it and pulls the figure (Prospero?) down from the pedestal. Angry, he initiates a fight with Caliban while the groups of dancers each assemble behind one of the figures and perform an ensemble dance. They then circle the two opponents before spreading out again, eventually moving to the sides to witness the conflict. When Caliban appears victorious, he seems to give commands to the groups: one moves upstage to do something with the rope while he invites a female dancer (Miranda?) onstage, presenting her to the crouched losing figure only to have him taken back to his pedestal. Caliban and Miranda remain together, joined for a few moments by a few other dancers in an ensemble dance. Caliban then sends Miranda off to the side, and orders the group in the back to come forward; they then perform their own ensemble dance while he stands back by the pedestal.

When the large group returns upstage, a smaller group moves to the front and performs a dance even as the larger group continues moving along the back; as they exit, another group takes their place. As they exit, they are replaced by a final group, one which dances as a caped figure is carried from the pedestal area downstage, where he exits. Several of the groups then come together and dance as a single large ensemble throughout the stage. As the large group retreats, Caliban slowly walks from the downstage corner back to the pedestal, where Miranda walks forward to meet him. They perform a pas de deux while some of the groups look on from the sides. Then, as they continue their pas de deux, the other dancers break away to cross and/or circle around the couple and the stage, continually changing their formations. Eventually, the couple ends their dance as Miranda walks off a downstage wing and Caliban falls back into a group of dancers behind him who all then cocoon themselves around him.

The scene then seems to transition as the group of dancers around Caliban stand and exit and a group of dancers that had been seated by the pedestal rise and move to center for an ensemble dance. As they continue their lengthy dance, Caliban and Miranda companion reenter from their respective sides of the stage and reunite for a reprise of sorts at center. The two dances end as she once again exits, this time suddenly, and Caliban reaches after her. Immediately afterwards, two male dancers bring forth a struggling cloaked prisoner (Prospero?) and throw him/her at Caliban's feet. The prisoner struggles to stand up and holds on to him for support; the men then return and throw another prisoner (Alonso's son Ferdinand?) at Caliban's feet. As he, too tries to pull himself up, Caliban throws both off and walks away, encountering a group of dancers who grab onto him and pull him down into a pile with them. As he shrugs them off and emerges, the two prisoners rise and dance toward him, joined by the group in an ensemble dance. Even more dancers join, surrounding Caliban and then lifting him above their heads at center. He eventually manages to break free and dances a solo while the group congregates upstage and advances toward him. All then join hands and he drags the long line of them back toward the pedestal but the chain breaks and they all roll to the side.

But the group rises again, this time in apparent rebellion against Caliban. He retreats, but is taken up and then thrown down by the throng, pulled out only by Miranda when she returns. The throng continues to dance in a frenzy, with one male dancer emerging as a soloist--it appears to be Prospero. Once again, the rest part to allow Prospero and Caliban to fight. While they do so, the rope is once again brought out from the corner and Caliban is lifted by subjects to grab it and pull himself in. He emerges with his head in his hands, slumped before the body of Prospero.  This appears to be the end of Act II; the dancers break character and the video breaks into static.

Act III begins with Caliban sneaking through the stage, accompanied by two companions (Alonso's men?). As the music begins and a figure emerges from upstage, the three scurry off and the figure begins a solo, during which he directs a row of dancers onstage and has the rope once again unfurled. Prospero's daughter Miranda and Alonso's son Ferdinand are brought onstage togther by a cloaked figure (Prospero?). Prospero then ushers the betrothed couple to the side and invites variously costumed entertainers onstage one by one. Soon two idols/dolls are brought to the group, while Caliban and his co-conspirators huddle on the other side of the stage.

Eventually, all of the entertainers bow their congratulations to the couple and disperse; the first two then position themselves and begin their pas de deux. As they complete it and once again bow to the couple, the master of ceremonies directs the row of dancers to assemble in two groups, between which the next two entertainers emerge. These two female dancers then perform their own dance, receiving some help from the master of ceremonies and another male dancer. The two groups of dancers behind them come forward to join them for hteir final pose, and the rope is deployed as all fade back to their original positions and another female duo begins a dance. It involves both a large scarf and additional dancing by the master of ceremonies. When they complete their dance, another follows, this time by the group along the back. As the rope is rolled up, they embark on a tap/show-dance number. One at a time, the three performing couples enter and dance a reprise in front of them. The master of ceremonies captures and carries off one of the dancers from each couple as they complete their reprises. The whole group comes back together for a final ensemble dance (during which a man, perhaps the choreographer, walks back and forht in front of the stage); after they strike their final pose, the rope is deployed to move everyone out of the way again.

Next, the happy couple are brought upstage (by their fathers?) and positioned in the corners. They then walk to center and begin a loving pas de deux. Both fathers occasionally intervene to lift/interact with Miranda. As the couple completes their dance and retreats to their downstage corner, the master of ceremonies (apparently Alonso?) brings out all of the dancers for a celebration. Once all have been gathered, they perform a large ensemble dance. This large group then breaks up into smaller groups of three to six (except for the betrothed couple, who dance alone) that perform together while the rest look on. After a solo by Alonso, another man walks forth only to be bothered by Caliban, tied up in the rope, pulling at his foot. He accepts a gift from Caliban (a crown?) and Caliban slinks off, pulling himself away using the rope. The celebratory dancing in groups then continues, transitioning once again into a single, large group ensemble dance. During it, one of the dancers collapses to the ground. Caliban hobbles over and pulls her downstage, losing his rope in the process, and reaching up to the sky as the rope is redeployed to section off the dancers behind him. When the fallen dancer rises and rejoins the group, the rope is once again removed and Caliban joins the full group in another large ensemble dance. Before long, all drop to the floor and perform floorwork. When they rise again and dance together around the center, Caliban is once again separate, looking up at the sky. He then slowly walks back upstage, through the dancing crowd. As the music ends and they all fall to the ground, he stops and looks back. This appears to represent the end of the ballet; all dancers then break character and a voice says "OK" as the rehearsal director/choreographer walks into frame. The video ends there.
Additional Credit
Clouser, James (is choreographer)
St. Elmo's Fire (music)