34 of 50

2019 is our 50th anniversary and we are championing some of the people who help make Scottish Ballet a great place to work. Each week we will introduce you to a different career at Scottish Ballet and the person behind it.

Following a tremendous career as a dancer, Helen Pickett made her choreographic debut in 2005 with a commission from Boston Ballet. In 2006, The New York Choreographic Institute awarded her a Fellowship Initiative Grant and she continued to work with a number of American ballet companies to create works. Helen received a Choreographic Residency from Jacob’s Pillow in 2008 and was one of the first choreographers to receive the Jerome Robbins Foundation’s New Essential Works Grant. She continues to be commissioned to work with ballet companies worldwide.  

Helen first worked with Scottish Ballet in 2013 when she was commissioned to create a one-act ballet of The Crucible, which she then transformed into a full-length production as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations. 

We caught up with Helen to find out what appealed to her about adapting Miller's work once more. 

Tell us about your journey with Scottish Ballet

2013 marks the start of this wonderful and eventful journey. Every time I create work here, the relationship develops. The entire organisation contributes to the work, and this generates a feeling of inclusivity. We create together. Chris asked me if I was interested in creating a ballet based on 'The Crucible'. I paused only a short while before I said 'I really like that idea'. I had no reservations about accepting this creative challenge. I knew it would be a behemoth to figure out and I could not wait too dive in. I love creating with Scottish Ballet. 

What was appealing to you as a choreographer to adapt 'The Crucible' into a ballet?

This play is a remarkable, timeless work. The power of the work hit me for the first time when I read it in high school, aged 15. Even in the 45-minute version, I knew I wanted to show the events before the consequences, before Miller even starts the play. I feel I followed the implicit momentum by adding these scenes. The momentum of the writing, of the story, struck a strong chord as far a movement as well. The characters are wonderfully complex and complicated. The Crucible has it all. 

You spent a lot of time researching Miller's play before choreographing, what are a few things that surprised you while exploring this ballet?

Like any work of fiction based on real-life events, certain aspects were embellished and changed to suit the message of the tale. Factual events from Salem, like Tituba's origin of birth and Abigail's circumstances which landed her with Uncle Parris, were shifted or untold. 

The town, now known as Danvers, changed its name after the trials and became included in the township of current Salem. Deputy Governor Danforth was demoted and sent back to England after his tyrannical decisions. After running away, Abigail was only mentioned in history once, as a prostitute, and then she vanished. The Putnams took the Nurses' land and home after they were hanged. The Rebecca Nurse Homestead still stands; I went inside and touched the walls, the furniture, and stood in front of the hearth. I walked in their burial ground, which was predominantly Putnam. The shame around the event was palpable. I got the feeling the people wanted to erase their part in this tragedy of hate and superstition. That is always dangerous!

What was it like working with Peter Salem on the new score for The Crucible, compared to working with an existing score?

Working with Peter is exceptional. Can you imagine sharing emails and ideas with a creative partner for a new work before it evens gets into the studio? This kind of work led both of us to tell the story in the clearest and most dramatic way. We created the work from the ground up, and that is an incomparable feeling. I must also mention James Bonas, the Artistic Collaborator. We worked side by side; in the ballet studio, on character development, scene clarity, and storytelling. To collaborate with such talented artists is always remarkable. 

Tell us about your choreographic process 

It is a collaborative process that includes the entire organisation. I believe in the success that collaboration offers. I know my craft, and I am always open to learning MORE about that craft. The type of artist that is willing to be open and ready, is welcome into the fold. Scottish Ballet is an organisation READY for collaboration and Chris Hampson knows this importance in both an artist and a team. He is an extraordinary artist and leader. 

What has been your favourite thing about working at Scottish Ballet?

I do not have one favourite thing! It's impossible to list all my favourite things here! 

What's your 'get up and go' song? 

Right now, The Black Keys. I'm going to their concert in October. I always go back to Tom Waits, Etta James. Alt-J, Paulo Nutini, Beck, Led Zeppelin, JS Bach, Johann Johannsson. Too many songs to list.