Stories That Dance

It's something the German critic Horst Koegler said: "The more often I see “Dances at a Gathering”, the more I feel moved by the incredibly rich human story behind its wordless plot. So that I feel tempted to call it an action ballet without a libretto. As such it stands in a row with, say,  Balanchine´s early “Serenade” and Ashton´s masterwork “Symphonic Variations” - on a less exalted level, I am thinking of a lot of Van Manen ballets (like his superb Beethoven “Adagio Hammerklavier”) or Spoerli´s two ballets to Bach´s “Suites for Solo Cello” – i.e. ballets without any story which can be told by words. And yet they deal with all sorts of human relationships or mental states and thus appeal to the imagination of the viewer, thereby establishing a new category of literature, resembling a short story or novella rather than a novel or drama. Surely the time has arrived for a distinguished author to define an appropriate literary genre for ballets of this type – ballets in which music and choreography meet on eye-level while the rest belongs to the mind."


In many companies, the roles of Dramaturg and Librettist are combined, and it is a role in which Leigh is the most comfortable (See more information here). But, what is "dramaturgy"? In her book, Dramaturgy In Motion: At Work in Dance and Movement, Katherine Profeta writes, "It's no accident that I’m writing a book about dramaturgy after an early career spent in a myriad of roles. In a culture full of specialists, dramaturgy offers one of the last refuges for the obstinate generalist. It offers a field of activity for those who would like nothing more than to engage, repeatedly, in what the education field has dubbed “project-based learning”— to kindle a fascination with a set of questions, around the formation of an impending event, and then stoke that fascination by approaching it from as many different angles, as many different knowledge bases, as are possibly relevant (and a few that aren’t, for good measure). A renewable curiosity is the dramaturg’s main stock-in-trade."

For someone who has made a career out of exploring life experiences as diverse as the day is long, Leigh's abilities to bring an examination of everything from empathy and human understanding, to anthropology and politics, makes her a valuable collaborator.

Please click on each title to read the synopsis, hear music samples, and find out more about the work we do. We will work within your budget, and the level of our involvement is entirely up to you. Buy the script, or have us write something designed especially for you. A dance production only happens with intense collaboration, and we can work with you.

Strong narratives are difficult to write, and just as a writer shouldn't be expected to choreograph without that knowledge and experience, a choreographer shouldn't also have the burden of trying to create a story that can engage the audience. We can do that for you. If you would like to create a production, and may even have the music for it, get in touch and ask Leigh to write a narrative that will work for you.

Read some of the essays about narrative dance HERE, including a wonderful lecture by Horst Koegler on the importance of ballet learning a lesson from opera in hiring librettists and dramaturgs, and choreographers not being expected to carry the full weight of the creation of a production.

100 years from now, when a company somewhere in the world presents a season of classics, will they be Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty? Or will the program include Swan Lake, and the centenary celebration of a story crafted by a South African back in 2017?


Skambha Village celebrates the connectedness of all things, and was formed as a platform to connect Leigh's media and arts experience with her interest in humanitarian issues. Leigh's journalism background and love of research, combined with a diverse taste in music, results in compelling and passionate narrative dance productions. Her ability to find stories in the lyrics of disparate songs and translate them to the dance stage, brings a new approach to live performance.

Written with the ultimate goal of bringing a new audience to the dance theatre, the music and stories are designed to appeal to a wide spectrum of people, especially those who have never seen dance portrayed in this way before. The appeal to choreographers is inherent: here is an opportunity to create movements, whether ballet or modern dance, to the extraordinary music of the world and to tell these stories in an original way. 

There are many more narratives waiting in the wings, and you can see a list of some below, under "Flights of Fancy".

Leigh Barrett is a veteran journalist from South Africa, with a background in television, print, and radio.  She was nominated for a national television award for her documentary on “Aids in Africa” for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and wrote a weekly column for a widely circulated Johannesburg newspaper.

Leigh traveled to America in 1998, where she worked on two public radio stations in the Pacific Northwest for 18 years before returning to South Africa in 2016.

In 2012, she was invited by KJ Wetherholt to join the IIPFoundation/MIPJ (“Media and Information Policy Journa”), to produce podcasts and print content, focusing on global humanitarian issues. Wetherholt says, “There is no one I know who has such a broad spectrum of talents in the media sphere, and who has the capacity to bring such layered, nuanced, and professional capacities in both development and production of content.”

Leigh’s critical thinking abilities and well-honed intuition results in extraordinary stories that are rooted in humanity. An open willingness to be flexible and a love of collaboration, combined with a wry sense of humor and a healthy dose of self-deprecation, makes Leigh a fabulous and absolutely authentic partner in creativity – anywhere in the world.

We welcome all enquiries and look forward to discussing these ideas with you.


Combining opera, dance, and orchestra into astounding collaborations is on the agenda!
Three productions are in the works: from Shakespeare's Sonnets combining spoken word and song, to telling a distinctly South African story through Vivaldi's Four Seasons, to an examination of humanity through prayer... Sounds interesting? Contact Leigh for more information now.

African legend tells that hurricanes originate on the west coast of the continent, and follow the routes of the slave ships. This, they say, is the work of angry ancestors, exacting revenge for the millions of African lives stolen from the homeland, and who either died en route, or forced into slavery in the United States, Caribbean, and South America.
This production takes a mystical view of the Hurricane, and includes music from various parts of the world, reflecting the battle for justice globally.

A full-length production based on a mystical story of “Skambha” or the Axis Mundi: the sacred tree of life, or knowledge, that is featured in almost every religion, and has roots in mythology and science, representing the coming together of heaven and earth.  The ballet incorporates the 5 “skandas”, or elements, that flow out from the tree: water, earth, wood, fire, and metal, and the 4 directions, represented by music and dance styles from the different regions.

A glimpse into a dystopian future, where secrets are shared through the world’s last flowers, and the power lies in the hands of those who control the water sources.
A young woman is rummaging through her grandmother’s belongings when she comes across a pressed flower.  It was once a common wildflower, but as a result of global warming, is now considered extinct.  She decides to try and revive it, and hears about a source of magical spring water on the land of one of the last remaining tea masters.  Their attempts to keep secret the spring from the military rulers is a spell binding story of human courage and the desire to save what is left of the planet.

The enduring love between poet and author, Breyten Breytenbach and his wife, Yolande, is told in his poems and letters, many of which were written in solitary confinement in a South African prison during the harsh years of apartheid.

your letter is larger and lighter
than the thought of a flower when the dream
is a garden…
as your letter opens
there's an unfolding of sky, word from outside, 
wide spaces …
I will be suspended from the sky of your words— 
grant that I may dwell in your letter
all the days of my life

(Excerpt- Your Letter, by Breyten Breytenbach)

A tribute to the life of Sergei Parajanov, a groundbreaking Soviet-era film director who was repeatedly arrested for homosexual activities and who spent years in prison as well as labor camps as a result.  The “static tableaux”-style he used in his films is adapted for dance in this production, with a homage to the use of forms and colors Parajanov favored. The resurgence of old Soviet actions against the LGBT community in Russia today, makes this production sadly current.
Suggested music: Juno Reactor (who received permission from the Minister of Culture in Armenia to score the music for a version of Parajanov’s film, “The Colour of Pomegranates”).

An exploration of the legends of Storyville, once the red light district of New Orleans. Established in the 1880’s and closed in 1930, the town had a wonderfully rich history. Many brothels flourished, but it was also a non-segregated area for jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong to play.

A fictional tale based on the true story of Xuanzang which has inspired many Japanese Manga and Anime comic films and stories.  The Monkey God is also one of the disciples of the Buddhist monk on his journey, but in this story, focuses on the Chinese tale of creation. A ballet designed for children, this has some wonderful creatures and characters, including the mischievous rebel, Sun Wukong, the Monkey God.