Lucy Negro Redux: Nashville Ballet
When Caroline Randall Williams’s book of poetry “Lucy Negro, Redux” was published in 2015, she hoped its words would transcend the pages on which they were printed. But she said she never imagined that the book would be turned into a ballet.
Paul Vasterling, the artistic director at Nashville Ballet, based in the Tennessee city that is also Ms. Williams’s hometown, read the book in 2016 and knew immediately that he wanted to adapt it for the stage. “The images the book pulled up for me are very dancelike,” Mr. Vasterling said. “Poetry is close to dance because it’s open to interpretation, and you bring yourself to it.”
“Lucy Negro, Redux” tells the story of a slice of Shakespeare’s love life from the perspective of the so-called Dark Lady for whom many of his sonnets were written. Some scholars and readers, including Ms. Williams, believe that the Dark Lady was Dark Luce or Lucy Negro — not just a woman with dark eyes and hair, but a black woman who owned a brothel in London.
In the ballet, “Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux,” which premiered Friday Feb. 8th,2019 in Nashville, Ms. Williams’s poetry is both script and part of the music. She will read some poems onstage, including a sequence that Mr. Vasterling said inspired a danced montage of Lucy’s past, her life as a prostitute, her struggles and, finally, her claiming of her own power. A pas de deux with Lucy and Shakespeare was inspired by a section of the book called “Happy Duet of Lucy and Shakespeare.
”The production’s creative team places three women of color front and center: Ms. Williams, the ballerina Kayla Rowser and the musician Rhiannon Giddens. If the ballet is about Lucy’s power and otherness, its back storyis about the collaboration of these women, who with Mr. Vasterling and the jazz composer Francesco Turrisi, are bringing Lucy to the stage.
Ms. Williams, 31, didn’t start as a poet. She grew up in Nashville wanting to act in Shakespearean plays. But she couldn’t find multilayered stories about black women in that repertory. So, at the advice of her mother, Alice Randall, she wrote “Lucy Negro, Redux,” to help fill that gap — and to give her a role with which she could identify.
“I came to Shakespeare as an actress at a young age,” Ms. Williams said. “So discovering this woman that was attached to him and then rereading when he says ‘if hairs be wires, black wires grow from her head’ and thinking maybe she was just really black like me helped me. ”For Ms. Williams, the goal is to inspire: “I hope anyone who is any kind of other will see us three women of color in these traditionally white arts — bluegrass music, classical ballet and Shakespearean theater — and say ‘they belong there, and I do, too,’” she said.
NewYork Times by By Tariro Mzezewa
I have had the opportunity to work with Caroline Williams several times over the years. But seeing this ballet come to life was by far my favorite. Here a few more photos from the performance last weekend.