Karen McLane’s The Crowning of the Woodland Queen Tells a Powerful and Compelling Story
This last Saturday, May 26th, Karen McLane’s The Crowning of the Woodland Queen was a significant turning point for humanity.
As humans, we’ve used dance for many millenia – not just to entertain, but to transport. We’ve used dance in ritual and in storytelling. And even though we’ve had many new forms of storytelling emerge – everything from novels to movies – dance still plays an important role.
When we use dance to tell an archetypal story, one that triggers a powerful resonance in ourselves, we can shift how we feel as a culture. In fact, we can shift the entire nature of human experience on this planet. (Think of butterfly wings triggering tidal waves.)
I went to Karen McLane’s new theatrical dance production, The Crowning of the Woodland Queen, hoping (perhaps against hope) that this would be the case. And most marvelously, my deepest desire was fulfilled.
But first, a point of comparison.
A month ago, I went to see Ballet Preljocal performing Snow White at the Kennedy Center. This was a highly-touted, sold-out performance. The dancers were all top-of-the-line professionals. The choreography was excellent and exciting. (The dance where the “seven dwarves” maneuvered freely up and down the “cliff face” in a form of aerial ballet was stunning!) The scenes were expertly set and the music by Mahler was memorable and evocative. (Strains still come through my mind.) Not only that, the costumes were by John Paul Gaultier. That in itself was worth the price of the ticket! And of course, I came home from the show uplifted and excited. After all, I’d seen some great art.
In contrast, Ms. McLane’s production was at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center, seating about 300 persons. The dancers ranged from pretty good (and enthusiastic and charming) amateurs to pretty good professionals and semi-professionals, They were drawn from local dance schools (for the younger dancers) as well as from Ms. McLane’s own troup, the Ancient Rhythms Dance company. The choreography was appropriate. In some cases, it was exquisite and lovely, in some cases, Ms. McLane did the best that she could with what she had in terms of dancer’s capabilities. The stage setting and lighting were well done. The music was selected from commercially-known pieces; many of us in the audience recognized favorite pieces. However, the music was not original or unique to the show. The costumes were lovely and quite effective – the use of sequins and sparklies for the (sometimes dark) stage lighting was really just perfect. And while well-done, they were not quite at the same level of costuming by Gaultier. (No offense to Ms. McLane. But few of us mere mortals can compare with his creative genius!) Once again, I came home uplifted, excited, and even inspired. Because not only had I seen some great art (it’s the effect that counts, not the various “moving parts”), but my soul was touched and transformed in a very special way.
I had intended to blog about the Ballet Preljocal performance. After all, what’s not to write about? Fabulous show, great dancing, superb costumes! But a few days later, other things had taken priority.
Yet the day after I saw Ms. McLane’s work, I knew that I would blog about this. In fact, blog more than once and from two different blogsites.
The difference between the two?
It’s in the transformative power of the story.
After Snow White is brought from passive death-like sleep back to life by the kiss of her prince, the evil Queen Stepmother is brought to justice. According to the original Grimm’s Fairy Tale (and as danced out in the show), red-hot iron shoes are strapped to the evil Queen’s feet, and she is forced to dance until she dies. Pretty gruesome ending, isn’t it?
In the Crowning of the Woodland Queen, there is also an evil, scheming, powerful woman: the Queen of the Shadows. She and her minions cast a spell, causing the to-be-crowned young Queen and her retinue to fall asleep. However, the young Queen wakes, and a battle ensues.
Point one: The young Queen rescues herself. She nearly succumbs to the potent sleep-spell, but she emerges and fights her own battle.
Point two: The young Queen takes the power away from the Queen of Shadows, but she does not hurt her. She removes the Shadow Queen’s headdress, but does not punish.
Point three: The young Queen “integrates” the Queen of Shadows into her own retinue. The two dance together. The young Queen blends with the movements of the dark Queen. She “mirrors” her. These are techniques well known in areas such as T’ai Chi Ch’uan and even neurolinguistic programming (NLP). However, to see them in dance has a special meaning. These movements of blending and mirroring tell the story of bringing our dark side into alignment with our true selves. This is the kind of process that author Debbie Ford describes in The Dark Side of the Light Chasers.
So what kind of stories do we want to tell ourselves, and each other? Tales of harsh judgment? Tales where we “kill” our own “Shadow”? (And for all that we can be viciously cruel to ourselves, does this harshness ever work?)
Or do we want to tell ourselves stories of forgiveness, of acceptance, and integration? Of love, even? Of becoming whole?
Our nature as a human species is inextricably tied up with our species-wide “self-talk.” We create our realities with how we create stories about our lives. Archetypal and allegorical stories are the most potent, because they speak directly to our innermost being. Let’s honor and rejoice in the fact that a new level of “self-talk” and “storytelling” is emerging.
Ms. McLane’s work may well be the progenitor of a new wave of storytelling. As it is, this work deserves widespread attention. It should and rightly could become “repertoire” among various dance schools and dance theater ensembles, much as the Nutcracker is a mainstay repertory story. There can and perhaps even should be segments of this show put into YouTube clips, and into DVDs, for use in dance education, theater, and dance therapy. And this is a show that should be refined, honed, and polished like a jewel – shown often and with great affection, as more and more people use the message of The Crowning to understand and heal their own lives.