“Jack” the Ripper is Frighteningly Close: Does This Ballet Go Too Far?
November 29, 2001

Grand Rapid Ballet Company’s new production “Jack” the Ripper opens this weekend in Michigan at the DeVos Performance Hall amid mixed reactions from the public. The true story of the infamous London killer is certainly a tough one to convey through dance, and, as it turns out, also a controversial one. Yes, the story is dark, but is it too dark for the pink and pretty world of ballet?

While director and choreographer Gordon Pierce-Schmidt claims to have created the work to bring in younger audiences, he himself admits to not allowing his own young children to attend, calling the show PG-13.

His ballet version of the classic tale, set in 1988, features sparse sets, hard-hitting moves, and some very realistic looking death scenes. Photos released for press and publicity show women with their throats slit at the hands of sinister-looking men. This is graphic stuff!

Schmidt told Michigan’s On-the-Town Magazine, “There will be blood, there will be a fear factor. It will be a very tense hour and fifteen minutes.”

But the tension isn’t waiting for opening night. Victims of sexual assault have spoken out against the ballet saying that the subject matter is not only inappropriate, it’s disrespectful.

An unidentified woman on Fox 17’s news explains, “You can’t make something like that art and respect what really happened to people. You just can’t do it.”

Schmidt, on the other hand, says that respecting the victims is exactly what GRBC is trying to do, and that the ballet was designed as a tribute to them. Besides, can anyone really say what should and shouldn’t be performed? After all, we live in a world where censoring art generally causes greater upset than the controversial art itself.

This work, it seems, should at least come with a warning label. Audiences beware: This true story is portrayed in a very realistic way. It will be scary, it will be gory, and it will be adult. To me, it sounds like it will also be pretty spectacular. And if there were any time to do it, Halloween weekend is it. This will certainly be more exciting than a tired horror movie. Personally, I wish I were heading to Grand Rapids this weekend.

Performances are Oct. 30- Nov. 1. See www.grballet.com for more info.



photo by Andrew Terzes, courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet Company.

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