When Dance FX director Jennifer Broe approached Andrew Walker of Entropy Arts with the idea of creating a dance concert inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Walker was immediately on board. The two had recently collaborated on the dance performance Mannequin, which was performed last year. "We were on a Halloween kick because we'd had a Halloween show last year, and we wanted to do something artistic and kind of dark," says Broe. "So we went with the idea of Poe."
After choosing to embark on this new work together, Walker wanted to take a stab at the script. So the two started researching the author's life and times. "We try to build a story that has strong roots, and especially for those people who especially like Poe," says Walker. "There are people who really follow his life, his career, so we wanted to do his work justice — not just to take the idea of something cool like Poe and do something creepy with dances." Walker took to his study, listening to Wagner, a composer contemporary to the author, and emerged with a script that would become Poe: A Play in the Dark.
A script for a dance concert is not as strict as one used for a piece of theater with dialogue. "We call it a script because it's stage directions and it's like the anchor," Walker explains. "Since we're not dealing with dialogue, it's a story or a journey told through dance. The audience is a witness to Poe's journey as he writes 'The Raven,' which is one of his last works."
Poe: A Play in the Dark is a work of fiction, but Broe and Walker have folded in plenty of details from the author's life. Much of the music is original, too, although they do make use of one classical piece from the first half of the 19th century — Wagner's Faust Overture. "A lot of times these dancers are really challenged outside of their facility. It really is a crossover between acting and dancing, but not musical theater. Truly, it's kind of a ballet on another level," Walker says.
The process that Dance FX and Entropy Arts went through to create this show is unique in that it was a true collaboration every step of the way. "We [Entropy Arts] create the music and our choreographers work together in real time with the company," says Walker. "A lot of times a composer or musician will give a choreographer music and then they base everything off of that, and sometimes a choreographer will have the movements already set and they're like 'I need a piece of music like this,' and then have it written ... [but] our methodology is to create together, music and dance."
Because of that unique process, the choreographers had more freedom when working with the intention of the dancers' movements. "A lot of times a choreographer's choices have to do with their music, and yes, of course, musicality," Broe says. "But because we created that together, it was able to be more about the story line. What is the mood and what are you trying to make the audience feel here?"
Because Poe: A Play in the Dark has strong narrative roots, Broe and Walker believe that it is a performance that any audience can connect with — not just a dance audience. "This particular show is very connected, very linear," says Walker. "Our last show, Mannequin, was definitely conceptual, and a lot of people took a lot of different things from it. We feel like this story is something that is easier to follow."
Broe adds, "It's definitely something for everyone."