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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reconstructing the Self- The Musical Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot

A Review By Sojourner Ahebee

Sarah Jones is a playwright and actress who has created a cast characters who come from a wide-range of economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Ms. Jones, who is African-American, uses her insight and talent and becomes her characters. We, the audience, are enchanted to come into their world and listen to their stories, in their voices.

I was recently listening to a video in which Ms. Jones shared her motivation for creating her characters. She was interested, she said, by how people construct a sense of themselves given the family, the geography, the times, the gender, etc. in which they are born. How do we become ourselves? How do we invent or reinvent ourselves, especially in an environment which is constraining.

Last Thursday I saw the musical, Billy Elliot, as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Presents series, in Philadelphia. My Aunt Mona had seen the New York production and had raved about this musical. So I was certainly looking forward to seeing it, and the Philly presentation, at the Academy of Music, was no let down. Billy Elliot is a must see.

Billy is a kid growing up in a coal mining town in England during the time of Margaret Thatcher’s rule and a time of economic difficulties. His family is working class and the men in his family have been coal miners for generations. My Aunt Mona, who visits England often, said it is difficult for Americans to appreciate the very rigid class structure that exists in British society. It is so oppressive as to almost dictate what your desires are and what you dream and how far you can transcend the background in which you were born.

When we first meet Billy, the coalminers in his town are on strike. His father and brother are coalminers and money is very tight. Despite these economic challenges, Billy’s father sacrifices a lot to pay for Billy to take boxing lessons, which Billy hates. While going to a boxing lesson, Billy sees a group of ballet dancers practicing in a room in the gym. He is immediately enchanted. 
The ballet instructor, Ms. Wilkinson, immediately pulls Billy into the classroom and a love affair begins with Billy and the dance of ballet.

How does a boy, in an English coalmining town, from a family of coalminers, against the background of the 1984 coal miners’ strike, become a ballet dancer? Going back to Ms. Jones, what circumstances are needed for the boy from his geography, economic background, and gender and so on to reconstruct himself as a ballet dancer?

How to knock down barriers so you can rise to grow into who you want to be is the essence of what this musical is about. Go and see it and be inspired.

Here is a link to the dates and times of the performances. The run in Philadelphia closes on Sunday, November 27th, so hurry to see Billy Elliot.

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