Joffrey Ballet’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ Shifts Focus of Tragic Story

An optimistic story that ends in tragedy. That’s how one might describe the plot of John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’.

Thomas Newman, the composer behind the Joffrey Ballet’s rendition of the classic novel says despite the tragedy, they work to share a story on the importance of friendship.

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“It’s feeling. Music is feeling at its best,” Newman said. 

Among those feelings sits small bits of uncertainty for composer Newman.

“The big question I had was, ‘Ok, it’s this narrative ballet. What is it to tell a story with music and body movement? What is necessary in music to tell that story, and what can you rely on body movement to do?”

It was in collaboration with choreographer Cathy Marston, that the creatives found themselves blending their interpretations of the classic words by author John Steinbeck. Unlike the novella, this story of Lenny and George begins at the end.

“I double George. So, there’s two Georges, the one who is remembering and wishing he could change what has happened. Then there’s the George living with what happened. Then there’s Lenny. The challenge was to make that readable in dance. You can do it in dance, but not in words. In dance you can say multiple things at the same time. But with words, only one thing at one time,” Marston said.

Xavier Nunez who plays George says it was through Marston’s movement that he believes he conveyed a message not easily noted in the book.

“The first time I read it, I took away the tragedy,” Nunez said. “But now I see it’s about these friendships, George is his caretaker. He might feel he has this burden, but in the end, he doesn’t give up. He doesn’t have to be with Lenny, but he still sticks with him. We know what happens in the end, but I believe it’s out of love.”

When asked how he felt his style had been conveyed in this adaptation, Newman recalls one of his favorite moments in the ballet.

“The scene we call it, ‘Fatta the Land’ — their wish for a home where they could grow veggies and have animals,” Newman said. “I like that theme and how it rolls forward and has tenderness. But also, a sense of rolling forward.”

It’s this momentum in the music that Marston says really allowed her to propel the story’s takeaway, the value of friendship.

“The end which is the trio between the two Georges and Lenny,” Marston said. “One side of George wants to save his friend by killing him and the other not killing him. That was the emotional climax of the story. I pushed Thomas to break my heart even more. Seeing all these lonely, alienated characters, but seeing the connection between Lenny and George. The story is heartbreaking, but their relationship is heartwarming, and I hope people go away with both of those feelings alive, I guess. Feeling what it is to be human and to be more empathetic.” 

The Joffrey Ballet’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ premieres April 27 at Lyric Opera of Chicago and runs through May 8.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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