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  • Writer's pictureTy Alan Emerson

Caliban - A Children's Story

We're just a few weeks away from our debut at Cain Park and the world premiere of the new ballet, Caliban Ascendant, featuring Inlet Dance Theatre. The show will be on August 29 at 8 pm, and will be free. No tickets necessary.

Some have asked, "What's this ballet about?" Well, back when we started this collaboration, the dance company had some similar questions. At one point, Inlet Director said, "Tell it to me like I am a child." So, I went and created a children's book-like text to describe the basic action of the ballet. We thought it might be interesting to share that with you, as a kind of glimpse into the process and the piece. You'll notice time stamps along the way. I put those in place so the dancers who were listening to the music could follow along. Some things have changed in the story-line since all this started, but the core is there.

I hope you enjoy the story, and look forward to seeing you at Cain Park!

Prospero on the Beach

Once upon a time there was a tall, commanding man that thought he was better than anyone else. He came from the best family, went to the best schools, had the most money, and thought himself, very, very smart. There were others who thought he was not so great and they found a way to get rid of this man, and sent him far, far away.

But look, there he is on a beautiful beach. Fanning himself. He looks different now, still smug, but adorned with strange and beautiful clothes and jewels. He looks around at the beautiful island, and knows he is the best man on the island. He came here and, because he is so smart, convinced all the people who lived there, that he was a very powerful wizard, capable of amazing feats of strength and magic. In truth, his real power was his cunning and lying.

So, there he is, on the beach, king of his own private island. In the distance he sees a ship. Those are the people who had sent him away. And now he is angry, remembering how wonderful his life was before he was sent away. He wishes a storm would come and smash the ship! He doesn’t have any power to command the waves, but his “subjects” know the secrets of the island and can summon storms.

Here comes one now. Their name is Caliban, and they are angry. They hate the man, hate what he has done to the island, hate what he has done to his friends and family. Every time Caliban tries to speak, they yell, or say very bad words. Every time they try to move, they are sore or hurting from all the work the man makes them do. Caliban would really like to show the man what they can do, but they are tired and sore. The man knows how to keep Caliban in line. He beats Caliban. Yells at Caliban. Picks on Caliban. Calls them names. That is how to control Caliban.

There is a sweet smell on the air and here comes Ariel. They are light and wispy, and full of magic, but deeply sad. They feel bad for their friend Caliban and the rest of their friends on the island. They try to help their friend. One of the wonderful things Ariel can do is help people feel better. They love to dance and fly, and are incredibly graceful. Caliban is so impressed and feels so much better that they try to join them.

But the Man has other plans, and starts to interrupt Ariel, and get everyone’s attention. He needs his “subjects” to build him a storm, and he starts to bully people, grabbing them by the arms, snatching jewels from them, and waving his hands, in magical gestures they are to use. Caliban hates the man and tries to stand up for their friends. But no amount of spitting and swearing will stop the man who takes back control.

Can you see Ariel and her friends trying to work their magic? Such hard work! Caliban is crying for their friends. After a while they joins their friends, as best they can. Nobody wants to build the storm, but they are all too afraid of the man to go against his wishes. The Islanders start to move together, into a close circle, gathering their energy, preparing for the final magic gesture. With a sudden rush of wind, the Islanders explode in various directions, releasing their immense power into the air. Everyone falls down with the weight of the work.

Now look. The man is the first to sit up, looking into the sea, looking for his storm. Ariel, Caliban and their friends respond to the sound of the waves, rolling and rocking. Feeling the air bristle and expecting storm, they all seek shelter. Except the man. He stands there, on “his” beach, waiting for “his” storm, to hurt his enemies.


Imagine a day on the beach, long before the evil man arrived, and see the sun rise on a beautiful day. The Islanders are found lounging in the sun. Ariel, stretching, basks in the sun. They love to dance and coast on the breeze. Their joy is infectious. They continue to dance and others follow suit. They enjoy playing together, and one friend takes center stage briefly, letting everyone know it is OK, they are safe.

With gentle energy, simple and safe, the friends begin to engage in more energetic play. There is an easiness about them. Carefree. Their gestures are fluid, but imbued with power. If you look closely, you can see color and light coming from their movements. Magic is just their way of life, and they are surrounded by beauty. After a while, Ariel comes to the foreground, leading their play. The friends adore Ariel, their beauty and infectious joy.

They have enjoyed the sun and the beauty of the beach, and now they are feeling tired. Slowly they return to their resting places. Ariel, keeps an eye on everyone, making sure they are safe, before they settle down to rest.


The night is cold and dark. No stars. No Moon. The only sound is Caliban’s cursing. Oh, the things he says! Clearly, he has been listening to all the awful things the man has been saying. Sometimes the sounds are like spitting, sometimes the words have such hate they sound like evil magic.

You can tell how tired Caliban is. The way they walk looks so painful. It’s not just that they are beaten, it is also because they are kept away from their friends. They miss them, so. When they think of Ariel, they can almost stand up. When they imagine the play and flying, they can almost smile. Caliban remembers what it is like to be whole again. But then they think about the man, and how mean he is, how he makes Caliban do bad things. As they remember the magic they wielded, they try it out. Maybe they can use it to free themselves?

Just thinking about the man, Caliban gets angry. He starts talking out loud, reciting all the things they hate, all the things they wish for. If they could just stand up to the man. They remember Ariel, is that them playing?

Something magical starts to happen. Caliban imagines being whole again, imagines being free. Their legs and arms seem to unfreeze. The words and gestures they makes resemble Ariel’s good magic. Now, they are sure. Now they are ready.

But wait, is that the man? Look at all Caliban’s friends on the ground, cowering. Caliban is ready. Now.

Prospero Exiled

There he is. Flicking his fan. He is very pleased with himself. And now here come the Islanders, those he considers his “subjects.” They are all around him, cowering. But are they really. He starts to feel a little uncomfortable. Something is different.

Aha! There’s Caliban. The man notices how tall they are, and strong looking, too. Caliban is talking to their friends about this transformation. They respond with the beginnings of angry magical gestures. Now they are getting a little more inspired. And suddenly, there is Ariel. Surely, they will talk reason to Caliban, or so the man thinks. It doesn’t look like reason.

The man breaks in, and demands the Islanders get back to work. Nobody seems interested in doing what he says anymore. There is something brewing, like the storm. A swelling magic. Those gestures that the man coerced from his subjects before, are now being trained on him. They are becoming more excited, more forceful. But he will show them how much better he is, and beat them back. They don’t seem to be backing down. Some snatch back some of the jewelry the man stole from them. They poke and jab and start to scare the man.

There he is, Caliban, right in front. All their friends, and Ariel too, are there behind him! Caliban lets out a terrifying scream. Still chaotic, but becoming more organized. Now everyone is united, and they work their war magic.

Caliban, Ariel and everyone working together. They encourage the magic with angry gestures, and the spell swells. They descend upon the man, conquering their own fear, until finally everyone falls away, exhausted. The man seemingly vaporized. And all around where he was last, are the remnants of the things he stole from the Island. Jewels, garments, and magic items.

Slowly the Islanders realize they are free. They can move with the grace of their former selves. They can become whole again. Maybe not just the way they were. They are different, but once more beautiful. Together they will rebuild their home. And there is Caliban and Ariel, and all the others. Lifted up by the gentle breeze of their paradise. Breathing the scented air of peace.

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