Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, has distinguished different levels in needs of human beings. Maslow argues that there exists a hierarchy of needs, which is often described as a pyramid. The need in the top of the pyramid is Self-Actualization. Maslow claims that Self-Actualization is what a person was born to do. A writer must write, a painter must paint, and a dancer must dance. Also, he believes that the only reason every person is not on the track of achieving Self-Actualization is due to obstacles placed by society in their way.
Due to the difficulty of materializing what you want to become, it gives a high degree of inspiration to witness somebody else’s successful story. Stephan Daldry, the director of Billy Elliot, exploits Maslow’s theory to depict a coal miner’s son from Northern England who desires to be a ballet dancer. Billy Elliot is a musical version of the British movie of the same name, and both of them are directed by Stephan Daldry. Although the movie was his first debut as a director, it brought enormous success with various awards.
In terms of music, the iconic singer and composer Elton John was so moved by the movie “Billy Elliot” composed the music for the musical. And lyrics were written by Lee Hall, who wrote the book and screen play for the film. Elton John had a similar relationship with his father like Billy did with Billy’s father. Elton John’s father wanted him to have a secure job such as a banker, an accountant, and a member in the air force, rather than playing rock and roll music.
Maybe that is why the music, “Electricity” composed by Elton John, captures Billy’s desire to be a ballet dancer astonishingly well, even though his circumstance is not favorable for him to be a dancer. The story is about an eleven years old motherless boy, Billy Elliot, from Northern England. In 1984, the government owned coal mining industry was threatened by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who had the intention to close non-profitable mines. Billy’s talent as a dancer is accidently discovered by the ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson. Billy continues his secret ballet lessons with Mrs. Wilkinson while his father and his brother participate in the miners’ strike. With the help of Mrs. Wilkinson and his natural talent, dancing becomes something he was born to do, but Billy’s father considered that ballet is just for “poofs. ” Although his conservative father, who lives in a suburban mine community, cannot accept Billy’s dream at first, Billy’s talent and relentless desire convinces his father to let Billy apply for the Royal Ballet School. In the audition, Billy answers his feelings about dancing with the song “Electricity,” saying he feels electricity while he is dancing.
Of course, his talent and hard work is appreciated, and the school accepts Billy. In terms of the plot of the story, it is a story we might have heard from a friend, who knew a very talented child from a poor family. Once Mrs. Wilkinson suggested the audition to the Royal Ballet School, even though his circumstance is not in his favor, the audience easily could imagine Billy dancing in class in the Royal Ballet School in the end. Even though the dancing prodigies keep the audiences’ attention to the stage, the story itself is quite dull. Ben Brantley mentions, “The plot, which sticks close to that of Mr. Hall’s screenplay, doesn’t even try to avoid the cliches common to tales of talented, odds-beating backwater youth” (The New York Times). Although the story of the plot does not provide audience with surprise, the incredible performance of young stars pleases audience throughout the musical. When young boy Billy and grown up Billy were performing together in Swansong, I was absolutely occupied by the beautiful ensemble. Also, when Billy is not allowed to dance by his father, he expresses his anger while dancing against the police in riot gear struggling to control the miners in strike.
That dancing scene was brilliant in that the director manages to interconnect the riot and Billy’s anger against the police and his father. Brantley shares his observation with me, stating “Mr. Darling’s surreal blending of Mrs. Wilkinson’s dance class with a clash between miners and police is on of the freshest, most exciting uses of narrative dance I’ve seen in years” (The New York Times). The setting of the musical smoothly supports the story flow, in spite of the fact that the stage has limited space, as opposed to movie “Billy Elliot”.
When Michael, Billy’s best friend, and Billy are dancing in women’s clothes, the stage transforms from Michael’s house to Broadway dancing show stage within a blink of an eye. Brantley also praise the efficient use of the stage, stating “Mr. Daldry and his prodigiously inventive team make sure that the conflict is carried through on every level, from Peter Darling’s inspired scene-melding choreography, which gives a new spin to the idea of the integrated musical, to Ian MacNeil’s fluidly moving sets and Rick Fisher’s showdown-casting lighting” (The New York Times).
In spite of gloomy backdrop of the miners’ strike, the director does not forget to bring humor into the stage. When Billy’s grandmother was dancing and singing a song about her thirty-three years of unhappy marriage in a sparkling dress, audience forgot about the tension from the strike. Because of this effort of the director, in terms of the overall tone of the musical is fairly upbeat. However, Brantley argues, “In tone, it’s closer to the song-dotted working-class films of Terence Davies or, on television, Dennis Potter’s “Pennies From Heaven” (The New York Times).
Elton John uses masculine notes to describe Billy’s anger and frustration toward his father. In addition throughout the musical, the masculine tone of the music helps to enhance the degree of the tension between Billy and unfavorable circumstance. But, in regards to music written by Elton John, Brantley mentions “But much of his work here, far more restrained than his more mawkish scores for Disney musical, is in a folksier vein, drawn from North country ballads and protest songs” (The New York Times). When it comes to interpreting the theme of the musical, there are different views.
Brantley interprets ““Billy Elliot” is a hard-times musical. And as the culture of the Great Depression made clear, in times of economic darkness there can be blesses relief in dreams of tripping the light”(The New York Times). Also he adds “This show makes sure that we always keep in mind the grittiness and despair of the society that produced Billy, so that the poetry of his dancing seems all the more startling and inexplicable”(The New York Times). When the musical production came to the United States, people were suffering from the financial turmoil in 2008.
There is certainly resemblance between the recession in 2008 and the miners’ strike in 1980’s Britain, but I believe the musical is about Billy’s journey to achieve Self-Actualization. If we change the setting from the mining community to a village located in seaport, I can still imagine Billy has conflicts with his father over his dream. In addition, the musical does not forget to keep reminding us to focus on Billy’s fight toward his dream. The scene where Billy is dancing against the geared police can be interpreted as Billy’s elentlessness about dancing, instead of the conflict between the police and the miner community. Even though the story is about a little boy from a suburban mining community in England, audiences around the world can enjoy the musical, because director brilliantly mixed the thrill of finding one’s passion and great dance with humor. Moreover, the little boy’s successful story reminds the audience of their forgotten dreams they used to cherish. Maybe the audience pictures themselves achieving their own Self Actualization, while watching Billy tap dancing on the stage.