50 minutes


Ann Southam

Text written by:

David Earle

Costume Designer:

Susan Macpherson

Set Designer:

Aiko Suzuki

Lighting Designer:
Frank Masi

Premiere Date:

December 19, 1969, Toronto Dance Theatre

Premiere Location:

MacMillan Theatre, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto


The Older Mary Magdalene -- Jackie Burroughs; Her Younger Self -- Amelia Itcush; Jesus the Christ -- Keith Urban; Judas Iscariot -- Barry Smith; Mary, the Mother of Jesus -- Susan Macpherson; Angels, Saints, Apostles and Friends of Mary Magdalene -- Helen Jones, Kathy Wildberger, Merle Salsberg, Susan Urban, Patricia Beatty, Clifford Duck, David Wood, Ricardo Abreut

Summary Note

The title A Thread of Sand refers to an hourglass. The piece is divided into two sections: (1) Introit and Kyrie -- The Desert and (2) The Journey to the Past. The Journey to the Past is further subdivided into six sections: Sanctus -- Song of Innocence; Offertoire -- Discovery of Selfishness; Communion -- The Dinner; Dies Irae -- The Crucifixion; Libre Me -- Hell; In Paradisum -- The Coronation of St. Mary Magdalene. This work is based more on the representation of the figures in this drama in Medieval and Renaissance Art, than on the New Testament.

Program Note

A Thread of Sand is a ritual narrative of the memories of St. Mary Magdalene. Alone in the desert, aged, she refuses to give up her spirit until she feels secure that she is not mad, that her memories of Christ, as her own totally human lover, are not deceptions and he will be known by some as being greatest for having been a man such as all men could be. She fears the trappings of mythology will separate him from those he died such a terrible death to reach across time. She imagines she is granted a review of her life and finds it as she remembered it, as beautiful, as terrible. She even believes that she went to hell Orpheus-like, to bring Christ back to Earth -- and in a sense she had. She too had to pay the price for looking back and after a vision of herself accepted into Heaven as Christ's bride, she lies down in the sand and one by one all the people in her drama recede, leaving her alone in the centre of the labyrinth of her own quest.


The set consisted of three raked platforms that became a pyramid, panels, a bed or a table. The 'thread of sand' was a very long piece of brown gauze. In the concluding moments, the fabric was wound around the stage in a spiral with Mary Magdalene at the centre. The dancers laid the cloth on the ground and exited over the waves of material leaving Mary Magdalene alone in the 'sand'.

Interview with David Earle, July 22, 2002

I was well aware that portraying Christ as a 'real' person wasn't a popular idea and there was a strong audience reaction -- in Sudbury I believe -- where someone thought I should be put in prison for suggesting this. But it seemed to me that if He wasn't real, His whole existence was meaningless. So I decided to take the view that Christ had to deal with the same challenges in life that we all do. And why not have love in it? … since love is the reward of existence.

As a young company, we were fortunate to find a dancer like Keith Urban, and we greatly benefitted from his decision to leave the United States at that time. He was handsome, strong and a very fine, clear, unmannered dancer -- the person who can portray a simple, masculine presence in a true and beautiful way. Keith had hair down to his waist and an interest in religion; he was the perfect Christ figure in A Thread of Sand. His humanity showed in every gesture.


A Thread of Sand