Fun fact: Why Sue’s butt says “Vorsicht“

“Vorsicht“ translates as caution. If you’re watching “Broken Open” and get distracted by Susan Roemer’s costume, thinking “why vorsicht?” when she’s facing upstage, here you go:

The creation process for Broken Open started with a very clear intention – an exploration of how, sometimes, absolute beauty can be born from a scar. One inspiration was a photo of a woman who had had a severe medical surgery, and turned that scar into a fantastic tattoo. Love or hate tattoos,  this woman took her scarring and turned it into her own personal statement of beauty. Something I applaud.


Another inspiration came from the city of Berlin, where I had the good fortune to spend a couple of weeks back in 2009. On a warm spring day I stumbled across Kunsthaus Tacheles, a building originally slated for demolition by the GDR. Artists had taken over the site by squatting there after the Berlin Wall came down. I spent hours in the garden reading and writing in my journal, wondering how someone was able to create graffiti murals five stories tall. I was amazed at the large scale beauty created by the artists. It wasn’t pretty, but it was absolutely beautiful. How a place with such a horrid history (the building housed a Nazi prison at one point) became a vibrant hub for beauty and expression. I was amazed at how a wound so deep healed over, and something beautiful came from that scar.

Early on the process designer Sandra Woodall mentioned graffiti for the costumes. This was totally by coincidence, she didn’t know of the Berlin inspiration. I sent her images of murals I had taken in the city, the  image above, which in my memory is from a stairwell in the Kunsthaus Tacheles, was one of them. In her search for fabric she found a print that must have been inspired by the same wall. She then had them painted over so the scale would read from stage.

Costumes being painted for the premiere of "Broken Open." Design by Sandra Woodall.

Costumes being painted for the premiere of “Broken Open.” Design by Sandra Woodall.

I am sad to say the Kunsthaus Tacheles was closed in September of 2012. I have to wonder if any of the murals were preserved. And I have to thank those artists who inspired me with the beauty they created.

If you’ve read this far – you were really interested in some background for Broken Open.  So a little bit more. These ideas: the graffiti, surgical scars – they were a spring board. As often happens, the ballet took a left turn and demanded to have a life of its own. 

“It seemed a straightforward story, and it was only when I came to write it I discovered it was like trying to hold fine sand: every time I thought I’d got hold of it, it would trickle through my fingers and vanish. ”

-Neil Gaiman on the creative process

I often find Mr. Gaiman inspiring, both his fiction and his comments on the how and why of creating. Broken Open was a difficult birth as far as ballets go. I had I very clear idea where I wanted the ballet to go before I began, but the ballet had a different agenda. While I encourage the dancers to thrive while being “lost in process,” I know deep down it is a highly uncomfortable place to be. When creating a ballet, I feel I’m watching something unfold that already exists, my job is simply to help it into the world. Broken Open hid from me a little bit, but perhaps I was looking in the wrong direction. Finally, I shifted my perspective and met what this ballet wanted to be.  

So in viewing, I encourage the audience to not look for the intention with which I began. There’s no right or wrong way to view a ballet, there’s no quiz afterwards.  Experience the work in a way unique to you. Gathering together a community to have a shared yet unique experience is one of the fantastic things about what we, as dance makers, get to do.

Video teaser for Broken Open.  https://vimeo.com/140251223



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