Your Ultimate Guide to Frankenstein

John Macfarlane’s design for Scarlett’s Frankenstein

What is it? A new take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this ballet by young choreographer Liam Scarlett updates the 1818 gothic novel for new audiences. Focused on love, loss, tragedy, and spectacular special effects, this ballet will pull at your heartstrings and make you see Victor Frankenstein and his creature in a whole new light.

In short: Contemporary choreography. Epic romance. And special effects that would make Hollywood (or Silicon Valley) proud.

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves gothic literature, a good cry, or pyrotechnics.

What am I going to see? Well, you need to know this Frankenstein doesn’t look like a Boris Karloff movie … Let’s start at the beginning…


The plot: The ballet opens in Geneva in 1775, where we see a young orphan, Elizabeth Lavenza, adopted by Dr. Alphonse Frankenstein and his wife Caroline Beaufort. Alphonse and Caroline already have a young son, Victor.

Lauren Strongin and Max Cauthorn in Scarlett’s Frankenstein // © Erik Tomasson

Fast forward 13 years and Caroline is pregnant, the household has expanded to include a housekeeper (Madame Moritz and her daughter Justine: remember them, they become important later), and young Victor and Elizabeth have grown up. Victor is off to university to learn to be a doctor, but before doing so, declares his love for Elizabeth. The family is pleased that their kids are marrying one another. Caroline goes into labor and, although the baby, named William, survives, Caroline does not.

Though obviously distressed about his mother’s death, Victor heads off to Ingolstadt in Germany for school. Like many college freshmen, he meets his best friend on day one, a nice chap named Henry Clerval. The two study (especially the new scientific discovery of galvanism, in which an electrical current can be applied to induce muscle contraction and, maybe, life) and party (in a 19th-century tavern kind-of-way).

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s Frankenstein // © Erik Tomasson

One night, while thinking about his mother and about life and death, Victor wanders into an anatomy theater of the university and decides that he’s going to create a man using body parts of the different corpses. He succeeds, but the living being he creates isn’t quite a man, but rather a hideous Creature. Victor is terrified. The Creature is even more terrified and grabs Victor’s coat (which holds his journal as well) and flees. Henry, good friend that he is, finds Victor and returns him home to Geneva.

What should I look for? This first act is all about setting up the movement language and the relationships. We also get to see the first pas de deux between Victor and Elizabeth and it’s where we see some of the most dramatic technical elements—keep an eye out for that scene in the anatomy studio. It gets gasps of awe every time.


San Francisco Ballet in Scarlett’s Frankenstein // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: Victor—tormented by what he’s created, falls ill and slowly recovers under the care of Henry, Elizabeth, and Justine. By the time he’s fully himself again, seven years have passed and his baby brother has turned into a darling child.

Yet right as Victor is about to move on, the Creature reappears, outside the Frankenstein Manor, while still carrying Victor’s journal. Afraid of being seen, the Creature runs off and drops the journal, which Victor finds. Ashamed of what he’s created, Victor destroys the journal—unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, the Creature sees this and vows revenge on Victor and his family for the rejection.

Max Cauthorn and Luke Ingham in Scarlett’s Frankenstein // © Erik Tomasson

And this is no false threat: the Creature kills William by accident and frames Justine for the crime. He then confronts his maker and confesses, asking for love and for Victor to make him a companion. Victor refuses and the Creature swears revenge yet again.

And then, Justine is executed.

What should I look for? Look for the Creature’s solos, which give a sense of his angst and misery, but also note how he dances with little William and how the movement there conveys his desire for love and affection.


Vitor Luiz in Scarlett’s Frankenstein // © Erik Tomasson

The plot: Well, there is a third act wedding, but unlike The Sleeping Beauty, this one doesn’t end happily ever after. Alphonse—Victor’s father—is found dead, leading Victor to panic and run off in search of the Creature. While Victor is gone, the Creature kills Henry and then, once he returns, he kills Elizabeth. Distraught, Victor kills himself. And the Creature, after mourning his creator, walks off into the flames of the Frankenstein Manor.

What should I look for? This third act is tragic, but also choreographically dense. Watch for the pas de deux between Elizabeth and the Creature—how might he have been different if he’d found love like Victor did? And keep an eye out for the moments when Victor and the Creature dance together. In many ways, these men are reflections of one another and the choreography reflects this connection.


Listen to the Frankenstein Spotify Playlist

Get in the mood for SF Ballet's production of Frankenstein by listening to similar music from Frankenstein composer Lowell Lieberman.