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Reimagining Mummies in 21st Century Ballet?, by Gonzalo Preciado

Reimagining Mummies in 21st Century Ballet?, by Gonzalo Preciado

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Latvian National Ballet launched the production Two Metres (2021). This triple-bill covered the notable impact of COVID-19 in the life of ballet dancers with high doses of humor and irony. The reimagination of mummies in their last ballet titled Go! Go! Go! especially caught my attention early on in the choreographic process, as I was part of it. I was one of its dancers.

Normally, mummies were introduced in novels set in ancient Egypt, as Théophile Gautier did for Le Roman de la momie in 1858. For centuries the audience has been attracted toward the fascinating world of pharaohs, treasures, temples, pyramids and, above all, the mysterious mummies that have inspired not only novels, but also ballets and films. These millenary creatures are beyond our world; hence they had become both fascinating and terrifying for the public. Let us not forget that the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 reinvigorated such interest. Anna Pavlova starred in the ballet The Romance of a Mummy (1923), whereas Boris Karloff —who previously had performed the role of Frankenstein—became the mummified Egyptian priest Imhotep in the film The Mummy (1932). Nowadays, most people would not be able to attribute the modern perception of mummies as creatures of horror to the early roles of Gautier, Pavlova, and Karloff. Instead, they could easily mention The Mummy´s remakes featuring Brendan Fraser and Tom Cruise in recent years.

It seems clear that mummies continue to captivate audiences across the world. However, the significance that lies behind them have changed. Or perhaps not that much? Antons Freimans choreographed the mummy scene for the ballet Go! Go! Go! to address the curious issue we had with toilet paper. People were afraid that toilet paper was going to become scarce, so they bought it compulsively. In this ballet, a man dressed with full protective gear enters the stage with a shopping cart full of paper rolls. Everyone notices him. They intimidate him and end up beating that poor man until they finally steal his rolls and dance with them. At some point, they cover their bodies with that paper, thus transforming into the scary mummies. However, it only lasts a moment. Suddenly, the dancers fall to the floor and they strip the paper from their costumes after realizing what creatures they had become. What it is the meaning of that scene? What is the symbolism that lies behind these pandemic mummies?

Fear seems to be the answer. When we do not know what we are facing, panic takes over. We were scared of the virus as well as of the future that awaited us after COVID-19. These mummies are still very connected to what they symbolized in the past. Behind these apparently terrifying creatures lies a mirror of our own fears. A mummy can be as scary as you want it to be or just nothing at all.

Author: Gonzalo Preciado, Contratado Predoctoral DGA, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Zaragoza.

Featured image: Mummy scene for the ballet Go! Go! Go! (2021) performed by the Latvian National Ballet (Photo by the author).

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