dance of death

I posted here a few weeks ago about making a skeleton version of Joseph the Soldier for the scene in which the Devil comes to claim him.

There’s nothing in the  Soldier’s Tale libretto to tell us what Joseph’s fate is, beyond the fact that the Devil comes to claim him. In the animation I have him roasted by his captor’s fiery breath.

It’s a grisly end, and one I afterwards felt uncomfortable about because it’s not a pleasant thing to commit a character you care a great deal about to being so cruelly done away with. Nevertheless, I stuck with the idea, and when I watched the scene at the Hay Festival, I was confident that it worked.

At her Hills of Nottingham blog, Charlotte Hill has posted a story she’s written full of strange and haunting imagery, including that of a skeleton, and it’s rather lodged in my imagination. Charlotte explains that her story is a work-in progress, and so please bear that in mind should you read it. But whether in this early state or in a version yet-to-be-decided, there’s much to think about in her tale of an unfortunate girl consigned to a watery grave.

11 thoughts on “dance of death

  1. Catching up with you–and surprised by the flame-and-bone ending. Must have been very dramatic to see and hear. He was sweet, enfleshed, and seems so even as a skeleton.

    • I didn’t enjoy putting him to the flame, but according to those who commented on the scene, it had the desired emotional impact. It rather broke my heart when he put his little hands to his face as the fire swept over him.

  2. just finished reading the story,
    The authors turn of phrase is brilliant. It’s a lovely haunting tale.
    It conjures up some very evocative images.

    it’s just crying out to be illustrated….

    thanks for sharing the link Clive.

    • There are lots of aspects of the story and the storytelling I really love, though I came up with an alternative end that I suggested to Charlotte in the spirit of her having said it was a work-in-progress. (I wouldn’t have done such a thing had I not thought the premise of the story so very beguiling. You can see what I wrote to her in the comments boxes at her site.) I’ve been really haunted by the idea of the the ocean nibbling away at the girl, rolling her body over and over on the sea-bed in a graceful dance until she’s nothing but a skeleton. I can see that in my minds eye so clearly that it’s as though I’ve already made the images.

  3. It’s not easy watching such a good man as Joseph go up in flames, but that’s the way of the devil I guess, I’m glad you put it into the show Clive, it really brings home some uncomfortable truths about life, death and ‘badness’ for me, even though I wish it weren’t so!
    I was drawn to Charlotte’s story too, it’s compelling , bags of atmosphere and so sad, leaves quite an impression!

    • I felt what I’d set up for the audience by having Joseph as such a likeable yet vulnerable man, required that his demise be visceral. Without the shock of that horrible and unexpected conflagration, the end of the story simply wouldn’t have the necessary impact. We need to be jolted by what happens to him, otherwise he’d just sidle away at the end, as though his unnamed fate just meant he’d have an alternative existence in an offstage hell, perhaps even one as picturesque as the settings his earlier story had played out in. (The village of pink and yellow farms set under green hills, and the toy-town palace with a garden of topiary and giant tulips.) But his fate as shown is unequivocal. It’s the end of him completely, and those who watch need to understand that he’s gone forever. Only then can the loss of the man be properly felt and acknowledged, in the same way many of us have only really felt the death of a loved one at the point that we’ve seen the body.

      I know that this Joseph is just a little thing of paper and crayons, and I don’t want to over-inflate the idea of what can be conveyed by such means. There are too many human tragedies played out in the news every day, and so I’m not suggesting to audiences that the fate of a puppet should be equated with what people suffer. But sometimes it’s through story-telling, music and picture-making that universal truths can better be conveyed, because they allow us to look at and understand things that in reality would be too terrible to countenance. The harsh realities of the world and the inhumanity that is all too commonplace in daily lives, can sometimes bludgeon us into states of anaesthesia, whereas art… and by ‘art’ I don’t mean propaganda… has the capacity to help us recognise and understand what we should be feeling.

      • Thanks for the reply And the more detailed explanation of what was behind this scene. I think what also makes it so shocking, and because of that, so successful, is how engaging a character you created in Jospeh; it’s impossible to meet him and not be rooting for him, not to feel outrage at what happens and so to make connections with those universal truths. Paper and crayon were never so skilfully wielded!

  4. It is rather dark, as many fairy tales often are. I would like to think that she finds herself at the end, but then it leaves the poor fisherman back in his solitude. Perhaps this is three tales in the making, one from each perspective.

  5. Wow! That sweet soldier ends up being licked by the devil’s fire! It is a kind of harsh fate. I am still hoping to see the performance – did I miss a posting?

    I hope you keep posting about this project and others! I am interested in Charlotte Hill’s post, but for today it all seems very dark!

    You really are an inspired (and inspiring) artist – thank you!

    • The performance was at the Hay Festival last Tuesday, so I’m afraid you missed it. Scroll back and you’ll find a post with some photographs. We played to a full and appreciative house and all went well. I know Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra plan further Soldier’s Tale performances, so look out for announcements of dates and venues.

      Yes, Charlotte has written an undeniably dark tale. But things in life frequently don’t turn out the way we’d like them to, and difficult subjects can sometimes be better faced and understood when mediated through storytelling. Traditional fairy tales are sometimes very dark indeed, because they evolved to help people negotiate difficult and even tabooed subjects. (Infanticide and incest regularly surface in them.) Charlotte’s heroine is tragic, but the fact that her bones are restless until her story has been told, moves me. None of us wants to be forgotten, but those whose lives have been blighted by violence might wish more than most to have their names and stories remembered. To me the worst atrocity is to wipe out another persons existence, and history is full of examples. We memorialise our departed loved ones to make sense of our lives and deaths, and storytelling is one way of memorialising the nameless dead.

      That’s all a bit deeper than I intended, but I wanted to explain why I was so drawn to Charlotte’s dark tale of a lost girl.

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