A note from Nell Shipman, Artistic Director, about The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace

Photo: Nathan Eldridge Dancers: James Kramlich & Erica Diesl

Photo: Nathan Eldridge Dancers: James Kramlich & Erica Diesl

Portland Ballet, in collaboration with The Telling Room (www.tellingroom.org) will open its final show of the season, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, on May 20th and 21st at John Ford Theater. www.portlandballet.org/tickets. Below is a description of the piece by its choreographer and Portland Ballet's Artistic Director, Nell Shipman. 

I was commissioned to create this piece in 2013.  In the beginning of the process I was given only the music and with that I made a story surrounding a Soldier and his internal struggle of preparing to enter conflict, going into battle, losing his life and facing the unknown of the afterlife.  The work centers around the Soldier in Life and the Soldier in Death, performed by two different men, with an ensemble of 14 women who personify his internal struggle.  Within the group of women, three of them represent Life, Death and the Soldier's Conscience. 

After almost completing the creation of the work and right before I headed into the studio to set it on the dancers, the decision had been made to incorporate people speaking about their personal experience of surviving through conflict before the piece began.  I thought the concept was powerful, but I felt I needed to incorporate them more into the fabric of the piece as opposed to having them as almost a preface to the ballet.  I ultimately decided that the piece would open in darkness and a single pool of light would fall on one of the speakers as they told their story, as their light faded the next pool of light would fall on the next speaker and this happened for all five of the stories.  In the final movement of the piece the stage falls to black again and the first pool of light falls on an empty spot and before it fades the dancer representing Death walks through it, it fades and as the next pool falls on the stage Death passes through it as well...and this continues through all five spots.  After the final pool fades out, the stage falls to darkness and we listen to the final lines of music.  In the last chord sung all five pools of light fall and the speakers are in them again with dancers by their side, the dancer representing Life is lifted above them all and the dancers all raise one hand reaching toward the light.  

When I sat in the house of the theater and saw these moments come together I realized that these stories had shaped this work into a message of everyone's fight against conflict.  Whether you are a soldier conscientiously entering into a fight you have trained for, or you a child fighting to be a child, or you are fighting to leave, or fighting to stay...when we learn these struggles and hear how they shaped a person's life, they reshape our community and our sense of responsibility in the role we play in each others lives.