La boîte à musique

La Boîte à musique (The Music Box) is the first ballet in the Dans les ténèbres trilogy and introduces the goth/horror storyline. Designed primarily for young dancers, it incorporates both traditional ballet and elements of ballroom dance.


Scene: Grandmother’s attic

Two sisters enter the attic of their grandmother’s house for the first time. The attic is strewn with typical paraphernalia — boxes, shelves, trunks, a dress-form mannequin, a hobby horse, etc. Their wide-eyed amazement reveals that this is their first visit to the attic. Dancing about the room, they interact with various discoveries including dancing with the dress-form mannequin. They soon discover a large trunk and inspect its contents. Finding a tam-o-shanter, one sister dons it and dances a Scottish dance. The other pulls out a feather boa and dances a ragtime. Soon they discover a strange music box and retrieve it from the trunk. Opening it, it plays a melancholy waltz. Suddenly two young specters appear and dance stiffly to the waltz. The sisters watch in both fascination and fear. The couple disappear when the music box is closed. The girls wonder at what they have seen. Sister 1 wants to put the box back in the trunk as she is very frightened, but the other wants to play it again to watch the specteral couple dance. Sister 2 eventually snatches the box from her sister’s hands, and they tussle over it for a few moments before Sister 2 secures it. She places the box on a table and opens it. The spectral couple reappear, but this time they are accompanied by a host of other wraiths. The music grows slower and slower as the box winds down, and when the music stops the dancers all freeze. Sister 1 is still very frightened by the scene, but Sister 2 is curious and winds the box. But now it plays a macabre tango, which is clearly sinister. The spectral girl soon comes over to draw Sister 1 into the dance, but she breaks free. Now both sisters are frightened and try to close the box, but the lid will not budge. The spectral girl again takes hold of Sister 1, and she is compelled to enter the dance. The tango becomes more and more frenetic and frightening, and Sister 1 repeatedly tries to break free but cannot. Sister 2 tries again to close the box but is unable to do so. All she can do is watch as the dancers whirl about, Sister 1 being pushed to and fro by the wraiths. She dances madly until at last she collapses at her sister’s feet. Simultaneously Sister 2 snaps shut the box lid, the music comes to an abrupt halt, and the stage is darkened except for a spotlight on the two sisters (all other dancers exit the stage in the dark). Sister 2 attempts to rouse her fallen sister but soon concludes that she is dead. Terrified at what has transpired, she runs to the exit, takes a last look at the scene of her fallen sister, bites her fingers, and flees in terror.

The stage darkens. A short musical interlude portrays the passage of time. The lights soon rise, but only to a dim view. The original waltz theme revises, and the spectral couple dance again as before. They are joined shortly by the ghost of Sister 1. The spectral girl welcomes her to their world and brings her to the spectral boy. As Sister 1 and the spectral boy dance, the spectral girl showers Sister 1 with petals. Curtain.

(in order of appearance)

Sister 1
Sister 2
Spectral Couple
Other specters ad lib.


Scored for strings, flute, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet, harp, piano/honky-tonk piano/celeste, and percussion (timpani, chimes, cymbals, bass drum).
Total length: appoximately 20 minutes. Score is available on request. Please contact the composer for more information.

Audio mp3s:

The attic
Dance with mannequin
The trunk
Jig (“Hunt the Squirrel”)
The trunk, again
Finding the music box
Spectral waltz
Tussle over the music box
Reopening the music box
Death tango

Copyright © 2007 by John Craton

Photos from the May 9, 2009, premiere

Performed by Amanda Kirkman, Savana Frank, Chandler Yates, and Jill Beaver as principals; Isaac Taylor and Hannah Voorhies as the spectral couple; assisted by dancers of Kat’s Performing Arts Studio; Kathy Thompson, choreographer & director. Bedford-North Lawrence Performing Arts Center, Bedford, Indiana.

(Click on photo for larger image)

Return to Dans les ténèbres
or to Music Catalogue;
or proceed to Partie II.