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The Dancing Plague

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By Gareth Brookes

Set in 1518, and told from the imagined perspective of Mary, one of the witnesses, The Dancing Plague tells the true story of when hundreds of Strasbourg’s inhabitants were suddenly seized by the strange and unstoppable compulsion to dance. Prone to mystic visions as a child, betrayed in the convent to which she flees, then abused by her loutish husband, Mary endures her life as an oppressed and ultimately scapegoated woman with courage, strength, and inspiring beauty. As difficult to interpret now (as a psychological reaction to social injustice?) as it was then (as a collective demonic possession?), the story of the "Dancing Plague" finds suitably extraordinary expression in the utterly unique mixed-media style Gareth Brookes has devised to tell it. The pioneering blend of his trademark "pyrographic" technique with sumptuously colorful—and literal—embroidery perfectly reflects, in a beautiful work of art, the enduring fragility of our human condition—from "choreomania" to coronavirus.

Gareth Brookes studied printmaking at the Royal College of Art. His graphic novels include A Thousand Coloured Castles (2017) and The Black Project, which was nominated for an award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2018. His work has appeared in ArtReview, been published by Kuš, and was included in the Comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library in 2014. He is based in the United Kingdom.

Harry N. Abrams, 2021, softcover, 6.75 x 9.5 in, 192 pages.