In the Shadows of the Moon

"For Pierrot loved the long white road, And Pierrot loved the moon, And Pierrot loved a star-filled sky, And the breath of a rose in June."
~ Langston Hughes
Choreography: Sarah Hixon
Music:  C. Debussy
Costumes: Jessica DiBattista

"In the Shadows of the Moon" is a complex quartet inspired by the iconic character of Pierrot.  My interest in this character stems from his origin in the Commedia dell'Arte of the 17th century, and his strange transformation through 19th century ideology.  I was especially interested in the Symbolist incarnation of Pierrot.  He became a kind of mascot for their movement,  represented as a suffering, solitary figure with only the moon for a friend. This association with the moon--and therefore metaphorically with the night--added a darker element to the usual "sad clown" figure of old pantomimes.  According to musicologist Susan Youens:


“Pierrots were endemic everywhere in late nineteenth/early twentieth century Europe as an archetype of the self-dramatizing artist, who presents to the world a stylized mask both to symbolize and veil artistic ferment, to distinguish the creative artist from the human being. Behind the all-enveloping traditional costume of white blouse, white trousers, and floured face, the Pierrot-character changed with the passage of time, from uncaring prankster to romantic malheureux to Dandy, Decadent, and finally, into a brilliant tormented figure submerged in a bizarre, airless inner world.” [“Excavating an Allegory: The Text of Pierrot Lunaire,” Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute 8 (1984): 94-115.]


However, in the spirit of the Symbolist movement, I chose to explore this subject with several dancers and not one.  My emphasis was on the imagery of Pierrot, sometimes alone, playing to the moon with his lute, and sometimes with his unrequited love Columbina.  I was increasingly more interested in the feelings of isolation, solitude, pining or longing mixed with moments of naïveté and prankishness so associated with Pierrot.


It was fitting, therefore, to look to Claude Debussy's music as a companion to this vision.  Debussy was profoundly influenced by the Symbolist artists, often choosing libretti or subject matter based on literature or poetry of the movement.  His most famous tone poem "Prelude a L'apres midi d'un Faune," for example, was based on a poem of the same name written by  Stéphane Mallarmé, a major Symbolist poet of the time.  However, Debussy was also adept at composing for dancers, especially the Ballet Russe.  To me, his lyrical Cello and Piano Sonata immediately evoked images of moonlight on lonely landscapes.  


The choreography is difficult, often combining rapid off-balance releases of weight with suspended shapes or lines.  Dancers reach, fall, sit in stillness, or burst into full-bodied playfulness throughout.