Scapino Ballet’s Casablanca

According to a 1919 manual for screenwriters there are only thirty-seven possible story lines. Others claim there are fewer. Tolstoy reckoned there were only two, but then he only wrote for the stage.

The manual was written at a time when Hollywood was establishing itself and becoming synonymous with the word movie. Twenty three years later it produced what is often claimed to be one of the best films ever made – Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca.

Scapino Ballet is often the most dramatic – in the sense that it tells linear stories, often almost wordless plays – of Holland’s several world class contemporary dance companies so perhaps it is not surprising that Ed Wubbe has taken the 1942 film to create the company’s new work. An obvious choice even, because the story has everything – love, war, intrigue, an exciting and exotic location and myriad colourful characters. It also has a memorable soundtrack with some wonderful music, including the classic As Time Goes By. You could almost believe that most of Mr Wubbe’s work had already been done for him.

But it is the mark of a great artist that he brings a new perspective to any situation, reveals things that were not immediately apparent  and, most importantly, puts his own unique and original stamp on it. Ed Wubbe and the Scapino dancers have done just that with Casablanca.

Instead of the dozens of colourful characters in the film, Mr Wubbe has opted for all the company to be wearing more or less the same unisex two piece suit, in either white or beige. Rick’s Bar in the Moroccan city exists between war and peace, between love and hate and between loyalty and betrayal. It is represented in this production by a semi-circular set with a ramp running down to stage level most of which is taken up with a revolve.

The opening scene was brilliant. Lit by one ground level spotlight which threw huge black shadows of a group of gamblers at the roulette wheel. The lone low key light was a feature of most of the scenes and very effective and dramatic it was too. There were a couple of outstanding sequences featuring the whole company and some really beautiful pas-de-deux and there were some fine circus skills on display (see photo), but for me it was the set pieces that worked best. The final scene (at the airport in the film) was breath-taking with the company slowly entering down the ramp each carrying a black ostrich feather fan. No stripper could have manipulated the fans more dexterously as they became, in turn,  propellers and flying wings.

Scapino’s Casablanca has taken the armature of the film, the underlying structure that holds it together, and left off the flesh. There is not a white tuxedo or trench coat to be seen.

The soundtrack is made up entirely from that of the film, both spoken word and music, plus a couple of sequences set to Moroccan music. But of course it is As Time Goes By, in many forms, which provides the theme music, a song which is both sad and reflective and which sums up what is probably the main gist of the story – the things we do for love. I can’t say that if you loved the film, you’ll love the ballet – but if you love contemporary dance you certainly will.  Michael Hasted    22nd October 2021

Photo by Bas Czerwinski