ON THE surface, the idea of a ballet re-telling of the Jack the Ripper murder case of the late 1800s might seem strange. Savannah Ballet Theatre’s version, however, turns it from a dark and horrific story to a powerful and memorable portrayal of the victims’ stories.
Ahead of the show’s opening on Fri., Oct. 18, we spoke with Savannah Ballet’s Abby McCuen about what makes this an important performance.
Where did the idea come from to put this story into a ballet format and tell it this way?
Over the years, I’ve found that I’m less of an artist and more of a storyteller, if that makes sense. Everybody knows Jack the Ripper and the story—I think the most intriguing part of it is that nobody knows who he is. But we do know who he is; we know there was a killer and we know he killed these women.
What we don’t know is who these women are, which is ironic because we even know their names. I just found that intriguing, so I started researching the women. They led incredibly complicated lives. I wanted to tell their story, and while obviously the show is called Jack The Ripper, it is more based around these women and who they were.
That is a really interesting approach! How did you go about trying to tell their stories in this format?
It started with research. I watched every movie I could get my hands on and I was reading books. My choreographer was reading books. So we just picked out certain things that we latched on to about these women, whether it was what they were wearing, a job they had, if they had children, etc. We kind of built a script, if you will, outlining what we wanted to portray.
The story is linear—we understood that there weren’t going to be Ripperologists [at the show]. We did this knowing that there weren’t going to be a lot of those people. We were going to have an audience of people who weren’t as familiar as that, so we wanted to be very clear about what was happening. We sourced music that we liked, came to the studio and started putting movement to it.
Why was it important to you that this story be told from the women’s perspectives?
One of the questions I asked myself was, “Why is this story relevant?” Why would people want to come see it, and would people grab onto it as something that’s relevant to today’s world? Women are still paid less than men. It’s a fight for women to be paid more, and these women were getting paid next to nothing and sleeping on the street. I grabbed on to that idea, and just kind of ran with it. This show was chosen and approved by our board because we do want to attract a new audience. We want people to know that you don’t have to see Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. There are ballets that are different pieces of history.
I should mention that this is the first historical ballet we’ve ever done. Everything we’ve done is fiction, so we had to be historically accurate. We didn’t want to make up something to please the audience. This is all history—it’s facts.
Is there anything else you want people to know about what they can expect from this production?
It’s a 55-minute show, and it’s one act. It’s just the right amount of time! [laughs]. On Saturday, between 6:30 and 7 P.M., we’re going to have a free pre-show talk with the directors and the choreographer. So if you have questions or you’re just curious and want to listen, come early and listen.