The Story Behind Berlin
Spellbound - Vol III Iss I
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY BEHIND BERLIN
We were very surprised when the following manuscript arrived in our post office box! It was delivered in a plain envelope, with the only clue as to its origin being the Australian stamps in the upper right hand corner. After some discreet investigation we discovered that we had in fact received an anonymously sent copy of the original premise for the ballet Berlin!
Those of you who were in the right place at the right
time -- meaning "those who saw the show" -- are welcomed
and encouraged to comment on the differences you notice between the two.
The 'singer' works every night in a Berlin bar with the band. The name of the bar?... well, let's call the bar 'Valhalla' ('Heaven'). How long has he been singing in 'Heaven'... it must be years, perhaps decades... it seems like... an eternity! He has seen all kinds come and go in 'Heaven', the lovers and the lonely, the winners and the losers, the rich, poor, powerful, insignificant, good and evil, in short all the characters who drift in and out of the perpetual sideshow which is the 'circus' life of Berlin.
The 'singer' is, of course, a mere mortal... perhaps more mortal than most. He has seen much and experienced enough himself to understand much of what he has seen. But tonight the girl who has appeared in 'Heaven' seems to be different than all those others over the years. How can he describe it? She seems to be... well, so innocent... so... angelic!
On the other side of Berlin is a square, a cathedral, and among other things... a statue. The statue is of a winged bronze figure... "The Angel of Berlin". She lifts her head to gaze out over the square and the streets, the buildings and houses. She has watched in silence the passage of time, humanity, politics, invasion, rebellion, and witnessed, with impartial patience, the joys and tragedies of the lives of Berlin. How long has she been there... it seems like forever!
But tonight a remarkable thing has occurred! She bends to lift the hem of her bronze robes, now softly falling as freshly woven silk, and steps timidly from her pedestal onto the streets of Berlin. Her idle wanderings among these novel surroundings eventually lead her, as chance would have it, to the threshold of an interesting looking place... 'Heaven'.
THE STATUES OF BERLIN
Two statues have remained silent sentinels high above the streets of Berlin. One, atop the Brandenburg Gate was built in 1791. She is a winged figure driving a chariot. She was variously destroyed, taken down and rebuilt. Today she is restored and looks down the Unter Den Linden, not with the Iron Cross she used to hold but empty handed, waiting for a more appropriate symbol of a United Germany. The other, a golden winged Victory was completed in 1905, moved during the Second World War by Hitler, painted a dirty brown and covered in chicken wire to protect her from Allied bombing. These statues have stood witness to peace and war, birth and death, victory and defeat, pride and despair, prosperity and poverty, unity and division; they are objects of reverence or vilification, acceptance or controversy, inspiration or damnation, but they are central symbols in the life and history of Berlin and its people.
Cast of Characters
The 'Valhalla' Band
M 1 "Foyer Collage"
Note: The Foyer will be dressed with two small 'sets' at opposite ends. Each will comprise a mirror and dressing table, on one of which will be a gramophone and on the other an old valve radio. Each of these 'sets' will be lit as they become 'active' with the music and should be as unobtrusive to the general environment of the Foyer as possible (while still providing that they draw attention to the activities while they are occurring in front of them). They could simply incorporate, for example, dressing room mirror lights which are switched on by each character at the beginning of his or her 'action' and off at the conclusion of each 'action'.
The various short pieces of music will emanate alternately from each of the sound sources on the dressing tables (radio & gramophone) e.g. "Wagner" will play from the gramophone while the radio merely 'crackles with static', then when the 'Wagner' piece concludes the radio on the opposite 'set' will play e.g. the "All Girl Band" piece while the gramophone produces turntable noise... and so on back and forth. The 'set' related to the 'active' music source will become 'active' and be the scene of the pertinent action. Thus the 'action' will occur at alternate ends of the Foyer and the audience focus will be constantly moving from one end to the other and back. The 'action' will constitute the arrival of one of the cast characters in a relative state of undress and with remaining dress (costume and make-up) under arm. The music will be roughly appropriate to that character e.g. "Rotunda Brass" band for the "soldier", "Wurlitzer Trapeze Music" for the 'Trapeze Artist/Magician's Assistant', "Desperate Waltz" for the 'Young couple in drag', and so on. The 'action' will incorporate the process of each character preparing for the show and completing their costume (assuming their 'characters') as well as some activity based on the individual 'character' involved. The pieces themselves are relatively short (2 or 3 minutes) and at the completion of each character's 'action' they will retire to the Foyer bar as the next character begins their 'action'. At the same time it is also possible to introduce the 'Military characters' ('Nazi officer, soldier, sailor, politician') and other more transparent characters ('Gypsy street girl, Bar man' and so on) on the outside (Concourse) of the Foyer and among the audience itself. The 'Angel', 'Band' and 'Wing makers' will not be included in this activity although there is the opportunity of a 'walk-through' appearance of the 'pianist' as an accordion player during this time.
At the conclusion of the Foyer 'action' the collected 'characters' will lead the audience into the theatre itself. (Perhaps our 'Nazi and military characters' could assist by escorting, with a certain aggressive insistence, one of the usual Dance Company 'friends' or 'staff'... some of whom are bound to be available at random choice for every performance!)
M 2 "White Music"
Note: In the theatre there will already be music and design (lighting) active.
The audience will enter to the sound of the "White Music" Piece which is a general low level industrial ambience. The theatre itself should be lit to produce the effect of a cold and desolate environment (Blue and white light, smoke or dry ice, etc.) although it will be still necessary to provide adequate light for the audience to be able to be comfortably seated. We will allow enough time as is usual (7 minutes or so) for the audience to be seated and to familiarize themselves with the provided cast sheet and synopsis etc.
Note: Although it may be advantageous to have the curtains drawn to reveal the stage at this point it is suggested that the 'Angel' Statue not be revealed unless, for example, in silhouette only. Similarly, although the piano and band equipment may be visible the 'band' members themselves will not be present.
The "White Music" will continue until the addition of "Grinding" Ambience which will accompany the lowering and display of the Fire Curtain.
M 3 "Melancholy Piano Solo"
At the lowering of the Fire Curtain the Solo Pianist will be lit by Pin spot for the duration of this solo piano piece. The piece itself will be of a flexible length to allow for any possible delay on stage (or in the theatre) and can be cued to finish at the 'Start tape/Fire Curtain Raise' call by the Stage Manager.
The scene is that of a semi destroyed Berlin square accommodating the 'Angel' statue and to one side a roughly organised 'meeting-place' (building blocks as seats and a bar like structure which may serve as a makeshift server). This will serve as the representation of 'Valhalla' (The bar called 'Heaven') although it may give the appearance of a mostly destroyed and improvised arrangement. The illuminated bar sign displaying the name 'Valhalla' is in poor repair and the clientele will always resemble an assembly of tramps around a burning street fire more than a sophisticated crowd in a swanky night-club!
At this time the set is void of 'bar crowd' and gives the appearance only of a deserted square in which the statue stands. We will assume that, in setting the 'bar' to one side, the bulk of the musicians (pianist, singer, drummer, etc.) will occupy the same side. We will utilise the existing recesses which are available in the Drama Theatre but some further extensions will be necessary at the front of the stage area.
M 4 "Perpetual Motion"
"Grinding" ambience accompanies the raising of the Fire Curtain to reveal the 'Square' set with 'Angel' Statue (+ dancer superimposed as statue 'The Angel') and the 'Valhalla' bar (in the rubble to one side).
Note: The bar is as yet indistinct and is not the focus of this scene. No cast (apart from the Angel, Giant, and Child) or band members (apart from the pianist) are yet visible.
The 'Giant' (Industrial Designer) and the 'Child' (Sculptor) are involved in the square in a dance of perpetual motion. Both the character of Art (The Child) and Industry (The Giant) are reflected in this dance. They study the Statue, each with their own specialist approach to 'wing making' in mind. The 'Giant' is a pragmatic engineer (perhaps complete with tacky scale model) while the 'Child' is an artist (carrying model wing type toys... as if small works of art), an aesthetic concerned only with the beauty of the form. The 'Giant and Child' remain in the background of the scene pursuing further experiments in 'wing making' as the square is entered by a young courting couple (the Lovers).
M 5 "All The Way"
The Young Man and his Girlfriend enter the square. They are courting in a youthful manner. The 'young man' has a gift for his 'girlfriend' which is a rather cheap, gaudy and daring red party dress. The Singer/Narrator is revealed in 'torch singer' lighting (placed in alcove.)
Note: The singer may appear during the ballet at different 'stations' to perform the songs, but will remain removed and predominantly static (i.e. standing at the microphone, seated on a bar stool at the microphone and so on) and will appear as if an observer and narrator to the unfolding drama.
The first reveal will be at the cue of the vocal entry... "When somebody loves you..."
M 6 a) "The Rubble Climb"
The Young Man is distracted, before giving the gift of the red dress to his 'girlfriend', by the striking beauty of the statue and the similarity of her looks to that of his 'girlfriend'. With mock bravado, but just a little real fascination, he climbs up to the platform of the statue and tries the dress against the statue's figure for the benefit of his young lady friend.
Note: The cellist is revealed, playing, during this piece.
M 6 b) "The Kiss"
Although the 'girlfriend' doesn't really like the dress, she is just a little jealous when the 'young man' not only drapes the statue with her new gift but, with more sincerity than is appropriate, kisses the statue.
M 6 c) "Rubble Descent"
The Lovers have climbed down from the statue's platform. They are rejoined in their flippant antics and the 'girlfriend' has retrieved her gift of the red dress with the intention of wearing it for the principle of her possessing it (she is still a little jealous of the 'Angel') rather than for her real appreciation of it. The Giant and Child, although still occupied with their own concerns, have witnessed the preceding action. The Couple, with the 'Giant and Child' following, leave the scene which leaves us with the Statue in the momentarily emptied square.
M 7 "Angel Life"
We are left in silence with the Statue (approx. 30 seconds) as she begins to faintly glow and warm.
The incidental music will reveal that the 'Angel' is slowly coming to life. As if thawing from the kiss her face begins to glow and she, one inch at a time, begins to feel herself and her body come to life with the clumsiness of unfamiliarity.
Note: It may be possible to allow that the smallest indications of her first movements be seen by using a large projected shadow to amplify these details. It should be noted that the 'physical' statue remains in its original position and that she has left her bronze representation as if by 'ghostly' dissolve (the statue's 'spirit' has left it for the earthly plane and has materialised as a mortal form... with wings!).
Before long however she is a beautiful liquid creature who is about to gingerly attempt to step (glide) down from her lofty position to the square below. Once on the square level she removes her wings and places them on the square nearby while she explores her new found feet. The music increases in intensity until she is so animated that she is almost frenzied with the excitement of the feel of the earth beneath her feet.
M 8 "Heaven"
The Angel's revels are interrupted by the single string chord which is the introduction of the song "Heaven." This draws her attention to the 'Valhalla' bar which is, at this point, revealed to be complete with bar man and a number of characters as well as some further arrivals. The young Lovers are already there and the 'Giant and Child' have assumed their 'usual' seats where they continue to be removed from the general crowd (as they usually are), and totally involved with their individual 'wing making' problems.
Note: We are introduced by the singer with the song "Heaven" to the 'Valhalla' bar, its clients and its band. The full band will be revealed at this point.
The 'Angel' has picked up her wings and decided to venture to the bar. During Verse 3 (the quiet one) of "Heaven"... 'when this kiss is over, it will start again...' the 'Angel' enters the bar and, although her arrival is acknowledged by the occupants, her appearance (wings under arm and all!) is greeted by fairly routine nods (the bar is filled with a fairly freakish looking array of people, after all!). She has, however, noticed the 'young man' and he has noticed her. It will become apparent, although they are strangers to all intents and purposes, that they are drawn to each other as if by some former understanding and this will develop further as the ballet progresses. She has decided to leave her wings 'in trust' with the 'Child' while she explores 'Valhalla'. This, of course, further distracts the 'Child and Giant' who even more conscientiously study them while occasionally disappearing spasmodically to study the statue and the wings and returning to muse over their 'in trust' example.
M 9 "Military"
Three military characters have arrived at the bar determined to have a good night out. The Officer arrives first. The two others join later. Although commanding in aspect they are, at this time, reasonably pleasant.
M 10 "Sister Europe"
The three military figures, having arrived after a long absence on duty, are in search of a few girls... "Sister of mine...home again!"... Although they are making advances to all the females in the room including the 'girlfriend', the 'gypsy street girl', and 'trapeze artist', and even unwittingly to the 'young man in fishnets', they are particularly taken by the 'Angel' who, although they are drunk and already tending to be unruly is, in turn, quite flattered and excited by the novelty of her womanly attractiveness. She is suddenly popular and sought after which in turn causes her to be even more noticed by the rest of the male clientele (the lecherous 'diplomat', the 'magician', the 'bar man', the 'young woman in Tails', and ultimately the 'young man'). The scene takes the form of a 'courting tango' as the three central figures offer the dance to the various 'females'.
M 11 "Really Good Time"
The 'Angel' is taken 'under the wing' of the 'gypsy street girl' who introduces herself by way of the opening verse of this song. She is wise to the world of men but manages to enjoy herself at the game. She subsequently introduces us and the 'Angel' to some of the occupants of the bar (by way of the subsequent verses of the song). Perhaps these could be the officer, the diplomat, etc. She will conclude with the introductions of the Young Man and his Girlfriend.
M 12 "Pas de Trois"
The last image of "Really Good Time" is the Angel and Young Couple face to face. The Pas de Trois is an exploration of the two girls' twin-like similarities and their obsession with the Young Man. The Young Man is increasingly interested in the Angel and his Girlfriend is increasingly jealous. We are aware of the Angel's innocence and naivete in all this and she is becoming more aware of her sexuality. Probably the wings and red dress don't figure in this much.
M 13 "Loving The Alien"
The two ('Angel' and 'young man') court each other at a distance during "Loving The Alien" unaware of the fact that the rest of the clientele has deteriorated to a drunk rabble and the previously playful courtship antics of the 'sailor', 'soldier', 'Nazi officer', and 'politician' have taken on a more violent and sinister tone. Although the song is quite pretty the scene developing is juxtaposed with violence and ugliness. The fun loving 'gypsy', 'trapeze artist', 'young man in fishnets' and the 'young woman in Tails' start to become the victims of the deteriorated crowd of military and diplomat. The sexual orientation of the scene becomes more confused as the politician bullies for the attention of the 'young man in fishnets', the 'Nazi officer' in the process of rough handling the 'young woman in Tails' is revealed as a woman himself! The 'girlfriend' also contributes to the confusion by attempting to make her lover, the 'young man', notice her again. The 'girlfriend' taunts the 'Angel' by using the red dress, the representation of the 'young man''s attention, as a lure and the 'Angel' is caught in this triangle of temptation. As the outro (Debussy Solo Piano) becomes increasingly beautiful the violence on stage reaches a fever pitch and is cut off by the vocal entry of...
M 14 "Complicated Game"
This situation is suddenly and thoroughly diffused by the intentional interruption of 'the Magician' who is joined by his assistant (the 'Trapeze artist'). The military have moved to the back of the scene leaving us with the couples (Magicians, Angel/Girlfriend, Girl in Tails/Pretty Man in Fishnets, Diplomat/Gypsy?). The scene is dominated by the 'duple' nature of the lyrics (left...right, etc.). The two magicians (complete with card tricks and bunches of flowers out of hats) exemplify the two opposing sides of the stage (left and right) while at the same time reducing the 'Angel''s dilemma of choice to a rather farcical and grotesque game. The Young Man is the issue involved (along with the red dress... the symbol of his favours) and may have a Solo opportunity here. The red dress becomes a key prop in the 'magic' as it is made to appear and disappear, sometimes in the possession of the 'young man' and sometimes in his 'girlfriend''s hands with the 'Angel' fairly caught in the centre of this 'game of decision'.
M 15 "Hanging in the Balance"
At the end of "Complicated Game" we take a moment when the
Giant and the Child present, to the main protagonists, their choices.
M 16 "All Tomorrow's Parties"
The general crowd have assembled around the 'Angel' in mock mediæval procession and the red dress is passed from one to the other tauntingly close to the 'Angel''s reach. This is the 'beatification' of the Angel as a mortal ("All Tomorrow's Parties"... "what costume shall the poor girl wear to all tomorrow's parties?"). The parade will perhaps venture through the audience as the characters celebrate the mortal/party ethic while satirising the pomp of similar church/state ceremonies. The 'Angel' makes her decision. She takes her wings from the 'Child' and offers them to the 'girlfriend' in exchange for the red dress and the 'young man'. This is the Deal. As if in slow motion the exchange will take place accompanied by the sombre ambience of the 'gallows drum rolls' at the end of the song. The remainder of the cast, as if shunning the ultimate responsibility of this decision, is disappearing from view as we focus on the exchange.
M 17 "Destruction of the Statue"
At the peak of the exchange the 'ambience' will be interrupted by "Destruction of the Statue" Sound Effects/Music which will freeze our scene and focus us on the spectre of the Statue as it disintegrates. The Young Man and the Angel have fled and only the platform remains.
M 18 "Girlfriend and wings"
We emerge from this desolation to find only the 'girlfriend' (now holding the wings). She is alone with the wings and in a melancholy state of mind (having given away the Young Man for this prize). She is reenergised by the potential of the wings. She climbs the rubble and assumes the previous stance of the Statue. In so doing, she finds herself 'freezing' to become the Statue replaced.
M 19 "Giant and Child Kiss"
The 'Giant and Child' emerge again in perpetual motion. They now appear to have reached some kind of common understanding and are exchanging their various 'toys' (wing models, etc.). Although their 'perpetual motion' routine reminds us that nothing has really changed we do have a dim awareness that, in the bar, the Angel, who is now a mortal, is with the Young Man as his newly installed 'girlfriend'. The Giant and Child are still, as ever, fascinated by the Statue but this time the Child (in a copying gesture to the first scene, in which he witnessed 'The Kiss') wishes to kiss the Statue. The music also reminds us of that original scene with reference to the same "Kiss" themes used earlier. The Giant (with his superior strength and height) picks up the Child to aid him in his attempt. We freeze the final view of the stage with the image of the Giant holding up the Child toward the Statue. The child is reaching out in an unnervingly similar gesture to that of the Nazi salute. The curtain will fall on this frozen image.
Note: Once again the amplifying shadow effect may be useful in exaggerating this detail.
M 20 "All The Way" reprise
The curtain calls will be accompanied by the singer and pianist (who may take their calls in this situation) and serve as a musical 'epilogue' to the action.
M 21 "White Music" reprise
With the house lights will recommence the "White Music" which was present in the theatre when the audience entered.