These variations present quiet hints of the women’s personalities and the dissolute state of their lives, beginning with magenta-clad Mary Ann Nichols (Amelia Bielen), whose anxious search for a companion belies her luxurious striding and stretching. Soon enough, as with all five women, she’s joined by the shadows, whose near-motionless bourées are quiet, fierce, and unyielding, and finally by Jack, a husky force of strength and attention. The variations are at their best as the dancers convey the finer grace notes of choreography and characterizations: Megan Buckley’s red-haired Annie Chapman, for example, has a coy, gracefully half-drunk looseness, with carelessly voluptuous lips, audible sighs, and a knowing smile she turns on Jack when he appears. Kaitlyn Hayes’s Catherine Edwards, in red and petticoats, has an endearingly idiosyncratic little trip to her circling strutting, and then she melts helplessly toward the ground just as a patrolling detective appears to help her up. As Elizabeth Stride, in more magenta, Deborah Grammatic has perhaps the most prolonged and dramatic scene with Jack, first resisting the surprise crush of his hand on her arm, then fighting him aggressively over a series of gaping lifts. Finally, Jennifer Jones’s Mary Jane Kelly presents a bit of a departure in her ethereal whites, as she wakes on the floor near a bottle and rises into a willowy, dream-like pas de deux.
Jack himself, wearing an undershirt and suspenders beneath that cape, has a focused strength, intensity, and single-mindedness as he lifts, spins, and kills them. Meanwhile, the five earnest, fresh-faced detectives, identical in bowlers and dark, lean suits, alternate their attempts at crime-solving. Their dark-clad limbs make fine lines in their straight, truth-seeking leaps and extensions, their arabesques that lean yearningly toward some unreachable answer. As Jack continues to elude the police, and their desperation rises, the choreography warps their straight angles with hands curled upward in appeal, makes them lunge reeling toward their own feet as if ever more frantic to find new clues there.
The detectives never manage to crack the case, of course, but in a speculative leap, Shipman offers her own theory of Jack’s identity and motivation, as well as an opportunity for the victims to take a little revenge on their killer’s general mental state.
As for the latest certainty on Jack: After spending a decade combing through case records, researcher Trevor Marriott supports an accusation made at the time of the murders that the killer was not the dashing aristocrat sociopath of yore, but rather a German merchant seaman named Carl Feigenbaum. Anti-climactic? In a way, it hardly matters one way or the other. What use is a cracked case against its legend’s enduring, century-old cultural Rorschach? In sparking Masonic/Royalist conspiracies, recordings by Judas Priest and Bob Dylan, a CSI graphic novel, countless video games, an homage in This is Spinal Tap, and (almost) the name of a minor-league Ontario baseball team, Jack the Ripper might reveal a lot more about us.
Jack the Ripper | choreographed by Nell Shipman | Produced by Portland Ballet Company, at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater | October 26 | as of press time, the remaining performance is sold out