Arthur Pita to Premiere THE WORLD'S GREATEST SHOW at Ip-Art Festival in July
Award-winning director & choreographer Arthur Pita is set to premiere THE WORLD'S GREATEST SHOW*, a new dance theatre event exploring the phenomenon of dance marathons in 1930s America. Opening at Greenwich Dance on Friday 27 & Saturday 28 June, the production will be performed at Ipswich Corn Exchange as part of the Ip-Art Festival on Friday 11 & Saturday 12 July, culminating with a performance at the Paul Hamlyn Hall, Royal Opera House on Sunday 27 July.
In 1923 a 32-year old woman named Alma Cummings danced for 27 hours straight setting a new dance endurance record. The craze for dance marathons soon developed and became extremely popular during the American depression of the 1930s. This brutal fascination attracted desperate couples to dance until they dropped, in a bid to win a life-transforming cash prize. Participants remained on the dance floor, almost non-stop, for hundreds of hours, in fact most dance marathons lasted for 6 to 12 weeks. The longest recorded marathon clocked up 3780 hours; which stretched to almost 5 months. Contestants had to be in continual motion for 45 minutes out of every hour, day and night, and were disqualified if both knees touched the floor. This cruel and exploitative form of 'entertainment', that drove some to their death, was eventually outlawed in 1937.
Arthur Pita says: "After watching the film based on Horace McCoy's novel They Shoot Horses Don't They? a decade ago, I was inspired to create a show about the American dance marathon craze of the 1930s. Through years of research I have become completely fascinated by this segment of dance history that remains largely under explored. During the depression people entered the dance marathons to get food, lodgings and the prospect of winning prize money. Most of the marathons were rigged and corrupt. Couples were dancing for hundreds, even thousands of hours; it seems inconceivable, but they did it! Last spring, 8 brave dancers and I undertook a 100-hour workshop at Greenwich Dance to discover more about this phenomenon. When I look at archive photographs and footage I am so moved by the expression on the contestants faces, they seem so desperate yet there is still a glint of hope in their eyes. This is what I hope to capture with this wonderful cast of committed dance theatre performers, channeling those beautiful spirits of the past and giving a modern audience a poetic glimpse into what happened historically. Ultimately it's the fight in the human spirit to survive that I find so inspiring."
Set in a 1930s dance hall, THE WORLD'S GREATEST SHOW paints a picture of the many different characters involved in these disturbing yet enormously popular human endurance contests. Designed for non-conventional venues, the production will feature a professional cast of 11 performers accompanied by a 4-piece jazz band. The cast will also be joined on stage by up to 30 local participants for each performance.
THE WORLD'S GREATEST SHOW reunites Pita with The Metamorphosis composer Frank Moon. The score comprising original music and period songs will be performed live with a jazz quartet. The production is designed by Yann Seabra, with costume designs by Giulia Scrimieri and Yann Seabra and lighting designs by Ed Yetton. The cast features: Ewan Wardrop (Emcee), Alexander Varona (Floor Judge), Valentina Golfieri (Nurse), Helen Aschauer, Bettina Carpi, Amir Giles, Benny Maslov, Sonoya Mizuno, Emma Kate Nelson, Nuno Queimado and Jordi Serrats (Contestants).
Arthur Pita (previously Associate Artist at The Place) was nominated for this year's Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for his choreography for Ballet Black - A Dream Within A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House. His celebrated repertoire of work includes the multi award-winning adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis which has attracted critical acclaim since its premiere at the Royal Opera House in September 2011; winning Olivier, Southbank Sky Arts and Critics Circle National Dance Awards. His dance theatre work The Little Match Girl premiered at DanceEast, Jerwood DanceHouse Ipswich last December and will be transferring to Sadler's Wells for a Christmas season at the Lilian Baylis Studio later this year.
THE WORLD'S GREATEST SHOW is a co-commission with DanceEast, the Foundation for Community Dance for the Big Dance Weekend 2014, Studio Programme, The Royal Ballet and The Greenwich Dance & Trinity Laban Partnership, with funding by Arts Council England. Produced by Matthew Jones and Rebekah Jones.