The Dancing Plague with Book Plate by Gareth Brookes

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The Dancing Plague tells a true story, from 1518, when hundreds of inhabitants of Strasbourg were suddenly seized by the strange and unstoppable compulsion to dance, from the imagined perspective of Mary, one of its witnesses. 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 colourful (and literal) embroidery perfectly reflects, in a beautiful work of art, the enduring fragility of our human condition – from “choreomania” to coronavirus.