On Sunday afternoon, April 9th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Milwaukee Ballet’s program.
This included a new ballet, “Sans Pleurer” (“Without Crying”), which was a new one-act ballet for male dancers by Timothy O’Donnell. The ballet explores the “boys don’t cry” idea, and the difficulties men have expressing feelings.

The ballet, which depicts a man’s inner life, begins with a young boy dressed in a school uniform, sitting downstage, crying. An adult dancer comes down to him, makes him stand up, put on his school jacket, and ushers him off. He is gradually joined by other dancers who may or may not all be aspects of his personality manifest. The dances in pairs, trios, or larger groups express anger, aggression, depression, and other emotions, generally all done in uniformity. From time to time, on or the other dancer would fall out, or break ranks, often by taking off the jacket, leaving them literally baring souls, as they are shirtless under the jackets. One of the impressive parts of the ballet was the number of subtle but firm ways in which the “deviants” were corrected, and made to put the jackets back on and join back in the dance. As the dance goes on, it becomes more agitated, until there is a general casting off of jackets. The central figure, muffling his face in the coat, weeps madly, while all the others rush to surround him. Whether they are at the last supporting him, or restraining him, is left to the viewer.

We found “Sans Pleurer” both aesthetically and emotionally powerful. The Ballet’s male dancers exhibited not only power, strength, and skill, but also grace and fluidity not often called for in male roles. The evocation of male emotion was cleverly done. Some bits involved dancing with boxes, which we dubbed “mental blocks” or perhaps the boxes one put ones feelings in. It appeared that the dancers had no choice but to lug them around, like Marley’s Ghost and his strongboxes: if a box was laid down, it had to be picked up again; no one would take, or show interest in, someone else’s box.

In the notes, the choreographer’s question was posed: “Why are men raised to suppress their emotions?” We had a couple of answers. It’s not just received culture, but that is a factor. After all, strong admirable men like the characters played by John Wayne, Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart don’t cry. James Bond doesn’t cry. Neither do John McClane, Indiana Jones, Dominic Toretto, or any other hero you can name.

But there’s more to it than that. The culture of youth is full of shallow cruelty. If you are teased or bullied, and you cry, you will be mocked. If you rage, you will be mocked. If you laugh, you will be mocked, insult added to injury. And if you fight back, verbally or physically, you will be roughed up, bully being careful to be sure of physical superiority, injury added to insult. Therefore, the safest path is to be inscrutable. It doesn’t save you from bullying, but gives them the fewest levers. Some of us learned this from direct experience. The bullies, their sycophants, and the “better you than me” bystanders from observation.

Well, you can see the piece was thought-provoking--.

The music by Ezio Bosso was actually musical, evocative, and listenable. Conductor Andrews Sills got a big, exciting sound from the small ensemble used for this piece.

La Sylphide

I had not seen “La Sylphide,” which is one of the famous pieces of the classical ballet repertoire, live, so was very interested to see how Milwaukee Ballet would handle it. In this case, they engaged the services of Dinna Bjorn as Repetiteur, who is one of the recognized specialists on the ballets of choreographer August Bournonville. Together, everyone did a lovely job.

The Sunday performance had Nicole Teague-Howell as La Sylphide, Randy Crespo as James, Jonathan Batista as Gurn, and Rachel Malehorn as Madge the witch. All of the dancers were excellent. We thought that Ms. Teague-Howell could have been more expressive in the first act, but she warmed up in the second act and made her role quite affecting. The big wedding dance number in the first act was the most intricate version of this scene we have seen, and very beautiful. Rachel Malehorn, in her final role for the Milwaukee Ballet, did a fine chewy acting job as the witch. Andrews Sill and the Ballet Orchestra gave a fine rendition of the dramatic score by Herman Severin Lovenskjold. Costumes provided by the Boston Ballet were very pretty and plausible-looking. All in all, a very enjoyable and satisfying performance.

Moral 1: Don’t be rude to the local witch.
Moral 2: If you are rude to the local witch, don’t expect her to actually help you later.
On Sunday afternoon, February 21, we went to the Pabst Theater to see the Milwaukee Ballet’s new production, “Dorian Gray,” adapted from the story “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” by Oscar Wilde. This is a new story ballet by Michael Pink, set to music by his frequent collaborator, Phillip Feeney.

Unusually for a ballet, the piece incorporates a spoken word narration, delivered by the piece’s arguable villain, Lord Henry Wotton (James Zager), which helps to transition the story from Wilde’s heavily intellectual original into the realm of dance and movement.
The production is updated to the 1920’s, which works well. In the opening, we see people at their diversions: chiefly drinking, dancing, and flirting. We first see Dorian Gray (Timothy O’Donnell) posing for the portrait painted by Basil Hallward (Alexandre Ferreira), while Lord Henry stands by. Praising the portrait, Lord Henry flatters Gray, telling him “the world belongs to you—at least for one season.” This injection of spiritual venom brings Gray to make the fatal wish—to exchange his soul for eternal youth.

Lord Henry takes Gray to a party of his set, who fawn on Gray as though he were a Roman Emperor, or Pharaoh. A golden halo of light surrounds him.

Acting a proper Mephistopheles to Gray’s Faustus, Lord Henry leads Gray to the young actress, Sybil Vane (Nicole Teague), and paves the way for him to meet her. The two fall in love, an affair which ends when Gray brings Hallward and Lord Henry to see her perform. Having the three men in the front row breaks Sybil’s concentration, and she is heckled off stage. Lord Henry delivers the judgment: without her acting genius, she is “nothing.” The following day, Lord Henry reads out from the paper that her body has been found in the river. Her death is ruled a “misadventure,” but Gray is stricken with guilt.

Lord Henry takes Gray to yet another party. Providing Gray with a box of hashish pastilles (or something similar). Gray performs an Unholy Communion, distributing the drugs to openly worshipful partygoers, again bathed in golden light.

As the second act begins, fifteen years have passed. We see the people from the beginning of the first act, now sunk deeper into their individual debaucheries: more gluttonous, self-absorbed, perverted, violent, and even murderous. Gray appears, looking exactly as we last saw him, haunting his dust-cloth shrouded rooms like a ghost.

Lord Henry and Basil Hallward visit. Basil, who loves Dorian, is tortured by his behavior. Lord Henry gets Gray to reveal the portrait to Basil, who is struck with horror. Gray then kills Basil to keep his secret.

Lord Henry takes Gray to a ‘tea dance’ hosted by the Duchess of Monmouth (Susan Gartell), who comes on strongly to him. They go to bed together but are interrupted when Gray is haunted by the vision of Sybil.

Lord Henry counsels Gray that the memory of old sins can only be wiped out by new ones. Gray ends up in an opium den, but Sybil haunts his drug-dreams as well. Sybil’s vengeful brother, James (Garrett Glassman) also intrudes into the dream, which becomes reality, when James attacks Gray intending to take revenge for Sybil’s death.

James backs off in confusion when Lord Henry comes to Gray’s rescue, urging him to look at Gray’s youthful face, declaring that Gray couldn’t possibly be the same man that destroyed Sybil. Once Gray has escaped, Lord Henry taunts James with having been fooled, since Gray has sold his soul for eternal youth. Again hunting Gray, James breaks the line at a shooting party, and is killed by a hunter’s shot.

Being the cause of a second “accidental” death drives Gray into another paroxysm of guilt. Lord Henry tries to distract him with his perfection and what he could do in the future. Despairing at the prospect of an eternal life of horror and degradation, Gray attacks the portrait, and falls dead.

Given the nature of the story, there aren’t a lot of set-piece dances or lengthy ensemble numbers. The dancing that there is, is powerful and effective. Gray’s solo dances of grief and guilt are very athletic and quite dazzling. Dorian and Sybil’s “love duet” is dissonantly echoed in their breakup, with Sybil trying to recreate the prior moment while Dorian tries to push her away. Gray interacts with the frame of the never-seen portrait, making it clear that it is a trap.
There are also some nice moments for the long-time followers of the ballet. The play that Sybil Vane appears in is “Romeo and Juliet,” and the actors’ dancing alludes to Pink’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet, especially the Knight’s Dance. (Also, Marc Petrocci dances “Mercutio” in both productions--.) When Sybil Vane reappears after her death, her initial movements hark back to the appearance of the murdered villagers in the recent “Giselle,” letting us know that she is indeed a ghost.

The simple setting, consisting mostly of translucent swags of drapery and a doorway that serves multiple purposes, was enlivened by the wonderfully evocative light plot so that the set pieces changed color and solidity as the lighting changed to follow the story. The costuming was both mostly period appropriate and evocative of character. Dorian Gray’s shiny silver satin suit also took on coloration from his surroundings. (Mirrors and reflections are a continuing theme in the production.)

The score by Mr. Feeney did not tend to have memorable tunes, but was very listenable, evocative, and effective as music to dance to. Conductor Pasquale Laurino lead the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra with skill and power.

We were very happy to have seen and enjoyed this new, unique, and exciting ballet.
On Sunday, March 29th, we went to see the Milwaukee Ballet’s performance of Michael Pink’s “Giselle.” Liberally adapted from the original 1841 libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, Pink reimagines the story starting in the ghetto of an unnamed Polish town. Although the civilians aren’t specifically designated as “Jews” or the Fascistic soldiers “Nazis”, it’s pretty clear from the black uniforms and German/Polish signage what’s implied.

As the music starts, we see one of the townspeople, Hilarion (Timothy O’Donnell), clamber over the fence into the ghetto, eluding the searchlights and guards. As day breaks, he leaves vegetables he has scrounged and a bunch of flowers on the doorstep of the house where Giselle (Annia Hildalgo) lives, knocks, and then hides. Giselle is delighted by the flowers, but her mother (Rachel Malehorn) is more happy with the leeks and parsnips.

Enter Albrecht, a young officer of the occupiers. He is engaged to Bathilde (Janel Meindersee), the sister of his commander (Patrick Howell), but is intrigued by Giselle. Furtively, he doffs and hides his cap, belt and coat, revealing civilian clothes underneath. He then commences a flirtation with Giselle, and presses the gift of a necklace on her. Hilarion objects to this, and the two fight, but are separated by the townspeople, who strike up music and dancing to divert any attention by the guards. Giselle dances, but her mother, afraid due to Giselle’s weak heart, pulls her aside.

Albrecht ducks out as the guards do enter. Bathilde has arrived, and her brother is giving her a tour. Among other things, the people attempt to entertain her. When it is mentioned that Giselle loves to dance, Bathilde demands that she do so, and Giselle dances until she is exhausted.

When Bathilde leaves, Albrecht slinks back, only to be exposed when children find his bag and uniform. Giselle flies into a passion and dies. Bathilde, drawn back by the commotion, flings her engagement ring to the ground beside the prostrate Albrecht. As the curtain falls, her brother gives the order to round up the witnesses to his sister’s disgrace.

During the second act overture, we see the townspeople being “processed”, and then machine-gunned (tastefully done with light and sound effect--). As the ballet music proper starts, the dead rise and start adjusting to their new life as spirits. (Georgie had seen this ballet performed with the classical choreography, and said that Pink had adapted it wonderfully for this scene, preserving the steps but making it more ghostly). Giselle, now transfigured into an angelic being of light, comes among them and gladdens them.

Albrecht, wracked with shame and guilt, enters, seeking Giselle’s grave. She appears to him, expressing forgiveness. He pursues his vision of her, but encounters the ghostly townspeople, now bent on vengeance. They hound him to exhaustion and near death, with only Giselle’s intervention saving his life. As dawn breaks, the spirits depart, leaving Albrecht alone to face the day.

All the dancing for this piece was beautiful and powerful, with few noticable flaws. One objection that Georgie had was that the original first-act choreography was too broken up by the story insertions: she would have liked to see more sustained dancing. However, this was significantly mitigated by the power of the storyline and the wonderful character that Pink always puts into these scenes, and by the fact that the second act is pure dance, with much of the classical choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. The Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, directed by Andrews Sill, did a fine job with Adolphe Adam’s score for our performance.
On Sunday afternoon, May 19th, we saw a fascinating and very entertaining re-imagining of the classic ballet "Swan Lake," as done by the Milwaukee Ballet, under the direction of Michael Pink.

As noted in my review of the Bolshoi "Swan Lake," there isn't really a single definitive version of the "Swan Lake" story, and this re-working was quite radical in a number of ways. For one thing, the original four acts were pared down to two (with two scenes each, plus a prologue); which is a good thing from the plot point of view, but does result in a lot of classical dance (including the trademark "Dance of the Cygnets") being cut.
For another, generally good, thing, the villain Von Rothbart, is given some human goals and motivations, instead of being merely a "force of evil".

The stage was dimly lit during the overture, and we see Rothbart (Timothy O'Donnell) summon Odile, the Black Swan (Annia Hildalgo) from the waters of the mystic lake. Throughout this production, Odile accompanies Rothbart as his demonic assistant.

In the prologue, Prince Siegfried (David Hovhannisyan) is attempting to study near the shores of the lake, accompanied by his tutor. Young women of the court, lead by Odette (Luz San Miguel), enter larking along the lakeshore. They induce the young prince to join them, which he does, eventually dragged away by his tutor and by Rothbart,the Queen's counselor, who summons him back to court. After the prince leaves, he attracts the women with a gleaming bauble, and then, once they are under his power, drives them into the lake, where they vanish. (A particularly nicely done effect.)

In the next scene (Act 1, Scene 1, proper), it is the day before Seigfried's birthday, and he and his friend, Benno (Alexandre Ferreira),
partake of the people's celebration honoring him. As night draws on, Rothbart separates the Prince from the party, gives him a drugged drink, and sends him stumbling into the wilderness alone.

Rothbart guides Seigfried's steps to the lake, where he encounters the enchanted swan-women, and recognizes Odette among them. He learns of the curse that they are under and that it can be broken by Seigfried pledging his eternal love to Odette. Odile scatters the swans, and Rothbart, having set his hook, draws Seigfried away before he can do any more.

Act two begins with the grand ball the following evening celebrating Seigfried's majority, and at which his mother insists he choose a bride. He declines all of the princesses, until Rothbart enters with his "daughter" Odile, whom Seigfried sees as Odette. Seigfried vows he will marry none but her, which triggers Rothbart's plot. The reproachful image of Odette appears, causing confusion in all and dismay in Seigfried. Seigfried flees, and when Benno attempts to follow him, he is felled by Rothbart's dagger.

Seigfried finds his way to the lake. He begs Odette for forgiveness. She begs him to forget her as they can never be together. The Prince declares that he would rather die than leave her. The cruel Rothbart enters, and attacks Odette and mortally wounds her, while Odile holds Seigfried off. Seigfried carries Odette to the lake's edge where they both plunge into a watery grave. Rothbart and Odile do not have long to exult in their victory, as the enraged swans swirl around them, the mystic lake engulfs the two and drags them to their doom. The spirits of Odette and Seigfried, freed, are seen rising up toward heaven.

Michael Pink excels at choreography for story-telling and character interaction, so much of the ballet is his, with classical dances set like jewels, notably the grand ball dances. Pink's swans are the most swan-like we have ever seen, continually grouping together in birdlike flocks, and scattering in sudden flight when intruded upon.

All the dancers danced with grace, power, precision, and great expression, which made it a very exciting ballet to watch during the critical scenes. The set pieces, such as the villager's dances, and the grand ball, were beautiful to look at.

A major addition to the beauty of the ballet was the costume design by Jose Varona. All the humans' costumes were rich and colorful. By contrast, the swans' costumes were very austere. There were no feather headdresses or stiff tutus. Instead, the swan-women's hair was long and loose, and their costumes shift-like, with plain tops and short, ragged skirts, which gave the impression that the women were captives or castaways and reduced to living in their underwear. Nevertheless, we still felt that these were the most swan-like dancers we had experienced.

The orchestra, Pasquale Lorino conducting, gave an excellent rendition of Tchaikovsky's music, cut and reordered as it had been.
On Saturday, May5th, we went out to see the digital showing of the Royal Ballet’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” We were intrigued to find that this was a totally new ballet, with choreography by Christopher Weeldon, score by Joby Talbot, and scenario by Nicholas Wright, with an intriguing design by Bob Crowley, most of whom were interviewed in the course of the program.

This was a fascinating piece with a lot of excellent stuff in it—perhaps a bit too much. You could tell that the creators got to throw in every thing they thought of and thought good, when it could have benefitted from some editing. A case in point would be the scenes involving the Duchess ( a classical Royal Ballet “dame” role--). Who would have thought that the Frog Footman and the Fish Footman, two very minor characters in Carroll, needed their own dance?

The sequence in the Duchess’ kitchen is a detour from the plot and adds some disturbing elements: the Cook is a cleaver-wielding take-off of “Mrs. Lovatt” from “Sweeney Todd,” who exhibits an ongoing infatuation with the Queen of Heart’s headsman (or at least his axe--). The hellish kitchen is festooned with whole or partial carcasses of gigantic pigs, one of which is being fed into a sausage grinder. When the puppet “Baby” transforms into a pig, it seems to imply the Duchess is a combination of Circe and the Gingerbread Witch.

That said, there is a great deal that is very well done. The ballet opens with a framing sequence of a garden tea party at the home of Alice Lidell (danced by Sarah Lamb). Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll (Edward Watson), is there early, and uses the time to take photographs of Alice and her sisters. (Georgie recognized the costumes the girls were wearing, such as a Chinese outfit, as being historically accurate to Dodgson’s photos.) Alice’s mother (Zenaida Yanowsky) takes imperious control and directs the girls to change as the other guests begin to arrive. Alice steals a tart from the table and gives it to the handsome gardener’s boy, Jack (Frederico Bonelli), but when he is found with it, he is sacked over Alice’s protests. As the dull party drags on, Carroll begins to transform into the White Rabbit, and leads Alice “down the rabbit hole,” the opening of which is through his capacious camera bag.

The production uses a lot of digital projections, both front and back, for scene change effects and backgrounds, which are well integrated with physical set pieces, and they come into play for falling down the rabbit hole and the room of doors sequence, which also featured some delightful clowning on the part of Ms. Lamb trying to get through the tiny door into the garden. The Mad Tea Party was one of the most delightful sequences, featuring Steven McRae as The Mad Hatter. McRae is also an accomplished tap dancer, and his tapping provided a percussive beat for the dancing of Alice, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. This scene among others included some mischevious “quotes” from famous ballets, such as Balanchine’s “Apollo.”

Another elaborate and enjoyable dance was the Queen of Heart’s devastating parody of the “Dance of the Four Gentlemen/Rose Adagio” from “Sleeping Beauty.” In the “Tart Adagio,” Ms. Yanowsky, in Wonderland Persona as the Queen, gives a daring presentation of a bad dancer trying to overreach her skills while accompanied by timorous and reluctant partners.

The choreography by Mr. Weelson was exciting and interesting, although, at 150 mInutes plus intermission, there was rather a lot of it. Ms. Lamb danced her lengthy role (she is in every scene) with great flair. Her smiling face gave us the impression that her “Alice” was finding the whole thing a great thrill, a refreshing change from the typically dully puzzled Alice in most adaptations of Carroll. She was well supported by Mr. Watson as Carroll/White Rabbit, and Mr. Bonelli as Jack/Knave of Hearts.
The score by Mr. Talbot was pleasant and melodious, and ably played by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, under the direction of David Briskin.

All in all, a very enjoyable and innovative new ballet. We would be interested to see what will be done with it in future productions after it has shaken down a bit.
On Tuesday night, December 4th, we went out to see another rare ballet, "The Pharaoh's Daughter," choreographed by Pierre Lacotte, after the original ballet by Marius Petipa and Jean-Henry Saint-Georges. The ballet is not so much a revival as a reconstruction, as it has been out of the repertoire since 1928 (the subject matter not being popular with the increasingly repressive Soviet regime). After seeing old pictures of the spectacular production at the St. Petersburg Theatrical Museum, Lacotte determined to restage the ballet, but found that the records of the choreography were very sketchy, and the score had to be recovered from a set of violin parts once used for rehearsal by the Paris Ballet. With a commission from the Bolshoi as aid, Lacotte's version of "The Pharaoh's Daughter" appeared in 2000, and has been back in the Bolshoi repertoire ever since.

The original ballet was Petipa's first full-length ballet, and he and Saint-Georges pulled all the stops out. No relation to the Biblical story of the pharaoh's daughter who rescued the infant Moses, the story was drawn from Theophile Gautier's novel "Le Roman de la Momie" ("The Romance of the Mummy"), and would probably be considered a "paranormal romance" by today's standards.

Sheltering from a sandstorm in a pyramid with some Arab merchants, the English traveler, "Lord Wilson" (Ruslan Skvortsov), shares their hospitality by smoking hashish with them. Under the influence he dreams first that the occupant of the pyramid, Princess Aspicia (Svetlana Zakharova) has come alive again, and then that he and his servant (Denis Medvedev) have been transported back in time to Aspicia's day, and are Egyptians. As "Taor", Wilson follows the Princess and her servants on a lion hunt, and saves the Princess from a charging lion with a well-paced arrow.

He is taken back to the Pharaoh's palace and honored desultorily for his deed, but this is overshadowed by the ceremonies attendant on Aspicia's betrothal to the King of Nubia. Aspicia prefers Taor to the Nubian, and, once the palace has settled for the night, her serving woman, Ramze, aid the Princess in bribing a gatekeeper to allow them to escape.

Pursuit swiftly follows and they are overtaken on the banks of the Nile by the Nubian King and his men. Taor, his man, and Ramze are surprised and overpowered. The Nubian confronts Aspicia, threatening her with his dagger if she does not submit to him. Scorning his blade, she leaps into the Nile and vanishes.

The next scene is the court of the God of the Nile. Aspicia, upon arriving, is issued the dress of a river spirit and expected to take a place among them. However, she pleads her case so well that the River God agrees to send her back to the world above.

Back at the palace, the gatekeeper is condemned and put to death. Ramze, Taor, and his servant are soon to follow, but are saved by Aspicia's entry. Given her miraculous return, and her relation of the unchivalrous behavior of the Nubian King, the betrothal is called off, and Aspicia is free to marry Taor.

The celebratory dancing ends as Wilson awakes on the floor of the pyramid chamber, only to see a fading vision of Aspicia as she returns to her tomb.

This synopsis can't begin to include the spectacular sets, gorgeous but mostly non-historical costumes (tutus for the women!), and the extravagant dance numbers. At two hours, ten minutes long (pretty typical for a modern full-length ballet) one can only imagine what Petipa's version was like at more than four hours, but one can guess that there was even more pomp and circumstance.

Lacotte's choreography was very pretty, and, harking back to Petipa's day, did not depend as much on speed and power as more modern ballets, although the Bolshoi's trademark precision was on display.

While not the most wonderful of ballets, this was a very diverting evening, and an interesting glimpse at a historical artifact.
On Friday night, October 19th, we went to the Marcus Center to see the Milwaukee Ballet's production of "La Boheme." This was a world premier of a new ballet, set to the music of the opera of the same name by Giacomo Puccini, with choreography by Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Micheal Pink.

The story of the ballet mostly follows that of the opera, which was based on the play by Henri Murger, which in turn was derived from Murger's novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème. (Poor old Murger doesn't get much love, and isn't even mentioned in the ballet program notes. Puccini essentially stole the play--such were copyright protections in the 19th century--.)  For all that derivation, the basic plot is a simple one, and translates well to the ballet idiom.

The story opens at the apartment of Rodolfo, a struggling poet, and Marcello, an equally unsuccessful painter.  It is Christmastide, and bitterly cold. They sacrifice a canvas and pages of Rodolfo's novel manuscript to the stove for warmth. Their friend Colline, a philosophy student, enters, but declines to feed any of his books to the furnace. Then comes Schaunard, a musician, who's actually had a paying gig, and brings cheer of food and wine.  As each new man enters, the dancing changes, from a pas de deux, to trois, to quatre, but also with each character's addition to the dynamics of the scene. After fobbing off the rent collector with a glass of wine and a lot of badinage, the party makes to go out to the cafe. Rodolfo stays behind to work on an article that is due, so he is still home when the upstairs neighbor, Mimi, a poor seamstress already in the grip of "consumption" comes to the door to ask for a light for her candle. Enchanted by her etherial beauty, Rodolfo lingers with her, and eventually persuades her to come out to the cafe with him.

At the Cafe Momus, the party encounters Marcello's former lover, Musetta, an "entertainer", in company with her current sugar daddy.  Musetta behaves badly, flirting with every man in the Cafe, and ditching Alcindoro in order to invite Marcello and the other to a late-night party at her place.

Here, Pink adds in a scene not done in the opera, which helps clarify what happens later. At the party, Musetta takes Mimi under her wing, and loans her one of her couterier gowns. Her beauty set off by the dress, Mimi attracts admiring attention from other men, which touches off a strong spark of jealousy in Rodolfo. This scene also gives Pink the opportunity to do one of his "party pieces" wherein there are a couple of secondary narratives going on in the background. Will the scantily-dressed Moulin Rouge dancer go home with some one? (In very Parisian fashion, a male and female couple are the leading contenders--.) Will Schaunard, who gets unfortunately coarse when drunk, hook up? (Evidently not--.)

The in the fourth scene,  it is late winter. Relations between Rodolfo and Mimi have been rocky. in a confession to Marcello, which Mimi overhears, Rodolfo admits that he can't deal with the fact that Mimi is dying and there's nothing he can do about it. When Mimi reveals her presence, they recall the joy they have had together, and detemine to stay together and see what the spring will bring.

The last act is a warm day. As in the first act, Colline and Schaunard drift in to hang out with Rodolfo and Marcello. Musetta arrives, bringing Mimi, who is too weak to go upstairs to her rooms, and near death. The men do all they can to comfort and revive her, including Schunard going to pawn his overcoat to buy medicine. in a few minutes of privacy, one last dance recalls the lovers' first meeting.  The others return with their offerings, but nothing can be done, and Mimi slips away.

We saw Nicole Teague and Alexandre Ferreira in the principal roles of Mimi and Rodofo, and they were excellent. Annia Hildalgo as Musetta,  Timothy O'Donnell as Marcello, Ryan Martin as Schaunard, and Marc Petrocci as Colline also danced to the highest standards, with great skill and expression. As the ballet is very romantic and somewhat low-keyed as befitting the subject matter, there isn't a lot of "bravura" dancing, but there were many strong character dances: Musetta's tango-esque number at the Cafe Momus, Schaunard's farewell dance with his coat (technically a pas d'ane, but almost a pas de deux--), and Petr Zahradnicek's agile dancing as Benoit the landlord, surprising in his skinny-cut suit (which we suspect had some alterations by the costume department).  The dancing given to Mimi tends to be soft and languid, although not entirely enervated, and shows her level of spirit as well as physical energy. Rodofo's choreography harks back to the classical danseurs' role of lifting and supporting, but with a modern energy and dynamic. Marcello, Celline, and Schunard were all distinct characters with individual styles.

This version of the story is updated to 1950's Paris, another great time for la vie de boheme, but not so modern that Mimi's plight is unlikely. The costumers splashed out on a mixure of reproduction and vintage  clothes, which looked wonderful, especially the Dior-inspired party dresses. The settings looked much like any setting of "La Boheme", but had some nice touches such as the glazed windows in Rodolfo's flat, which reflected ghostly images of the dancers behind them. 

Pink's "La Boheme" was a lovely ballet, well produced and mounted. Pink is a marvelous story teller in stage direction as well as dance.  One expects to shed a few tears for Mimi. i was holding up well in the last scene until the moment when Rodolfo is trying to light the stove for Mimi, fruitlessly striking sparks from his lighter, not noticing, as everyone else has, that it is already too late. I didn't just tear up, I absolutely wept.

If this ballet is revived anywhere, I strongly recommend it for fans of the dance.


On tuesday evening the 9th, we went to see the HD playback of the Bolshoi Ballet's "La Sylphide," (The Sylph). This ballet is one of the oldest Romantic ballets still performed, and, in a number of ways, defined the Romantic style in the dance. In particular, the white Sylph costume, with the flowing, floaty mid-calf skirt made up of layers of gauze, has become the default Romantic women's costume, much as the stiff tutu'ed "swan" outfit has come to define "classical" ballet.

The story of how "La Sylphide" came to be is an interesting one. On March 12, 1832, the first version of La Sylphide premiered at the Salle Le Peletier of the Paris Opéra with choreography by Filippo Taglioni and music by Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer. Taglioni designed the work as a showcase for his daughter Marie. The ballet's libretto was written by tenor Adolphe Nourrit. Nourrit's scenario was loosely based on a story by Charles Nodier, "Trilby",(not to be confused with George DuMaurier's novel, which was filmed as "Svengali")but swapped the genders of the protagonists — a goblin and a fisherman's wife in Nodier; a sprite and a farmer in the ballet.

In 1836, La Sylphide was choreographed anew by the Danish balletmaster August Bournonville with music by Herman Severin Løvenskiold. Bournonville had intended to present a revival of Taglioni's original version in Copenhagen with the Royal Danish Ballet, but the Paris Opera demanded too high a price for Schneitzhoeffer's score. In the end, Bournonville mounted his own production, which included more choreography for the male dancer. The premiere took place on November 28, 1836. The Bournonville version has been danced in its original form by the Royal Danish Ballet ever since.

Taglioni's choreography has since been lost, so the version choreographed by Bournonville is the only version known to have survived. (According to the Bolshoi commentator, the French version was dropped from the repertory in the 1840's after a dancer was killed when her costume caught fire.)

The ballet is set in Scotland. It opens on the morning James (Vyacheslav Lopatin) is going to marry Effie (Anna Rebetskaya). However, he has been dreaming instead of an alluring airy spirit. He wakes and finds it is not a dream, as the beautiful Sylph (Ekaterina Krysanova) is indeed in the room with him. He tries to catch her, but she easily eludes him and flies away up the chimney. James asks his friends if they have seen the spirit, but they mockingly suggest he is "touched" or feverish.

Enter the wedding party. James is displeased to find that the group includes Madge (Irina Zibrova), the local witch. She offers to tell fortunes, and, when she prophecies that James loves another, and that Effie will instead marry his rival, Gurn (Denis Savin), James throws Madge out.

While the others go off to prepare, the Sylph reappears and pledges her love for James. After some persuasion, James gives in and kisses her. The Sylph disappears again when the others come back, but returns, invisible to all but James, during the party, and distracts him. When she snatches the wedding ring from James and puts it on her own finger, then flees, James pursues her into the woods. The wedding party breaks up in confusion when it is discovered that the groom is missing.

The second act opens with Madge and members of her coven brewing a revenge charm, which involves soaking a sheer white scarf in the contents of her cauldron.

Then, James and the Sylph enter. They dance, and are joined by a party of her sister sylphs, who also dance. In the variations, James continues to try to grasp the Sylph, who continually floats out of his reach. As the sylph's revelry moves to another part of the forest, Gurn enters, searching for James. Madge persuades him to give up the search, and propose to Effie instead. Effie accepts his offer, and they depart.

Madge encounters James, and gives him the enchanted scarf, telling him that if the Sylph wears it, he will be able to touch her. James persuades the Sylph to accept his gift, and he puts it on her. They embrace passionately, but only for a moment, as the Sylph shudders and dies.

Sorrowfully, her sisters enter and lift her lifeless form. Suddenly, a joyful wedding procession led by Effie and Gurn crosses the glade. James is stunned. Madge directs his gaze heavenward; he sees the Sylph borne aloft by her sisters. James collapses. Madge exults over his prostrate body, and the curtain falls.

This was a very pretty ballet, with a comparatively simple setting by Bolshoi standards: a handsome great hall interior for Act One, and a nice forest clearing for Act Two. The sylphs all have elegant variations of the basic costume, while the humans all have stylized Highland dress. The choreography (by Johan Kobborg, after Bournonville) is pretty rather than flashy, with much of the first act being based on Scottish country dancing as modified for ballet. Ekaterina Krysanova was lovely as the Sylph, seeming indeed to be as light and flexible as air. Vyacheslav Lopatin, as James, danced with great speed and power, his feet sometimes actually visible only as a blur to us. The other dancers were up to the high Bolshoi standards, with excellent precision and expression.

Like others of the older ballets, "La Syphilde" isn't frequently being seen in American regional repetoire, so we were very glad to have had this opportunity to see it.
May has been a good month for ballet. On Tuesday evening the 29th, we went to see the Royal Ballet's production of "La Fille Mal Gardée."

La Fille Mal Gardée (The Wayward Daughter) is one of the oldest ballets still regularly performed. It was originally conceived by Jean Dauberval, an important choreographer in the 18th century. He is said to have been inspired by Pierre Antoine Baudouin’s La Réprimande/Une Jeune Fille Querellée par Sa Mère (1789), a painting he was greatly amused by. This resulted in a musical pastiche called Le Ballet de la Paille (Ballet of the Straw) which told the story of Lison and Colin and their tricks to get Lison’s mother, the widow Ragotte, to accept their romance. Le Ballet de la Paille premiered July 1789 in Bordeaux. The ballet was later renamed La Fille Mal Gardée. With modern choreography by Sir Fredrick Ashton, the ballet remains in the repetoir of the Royal Ballet and more than twenty-two companies world wide, including the Bolshoi and the Paris Ballet.

The dancing of the Royal Ballet in general, and this ballet in particular, has strong roots in the Chichetti style, the first modern ballet method, which has emphasis on grace and prettiness of stage pictures, as apart from modern Russian ballet, which is distinguished by speed and technical brilliance. In addition, Ashton drew heavily on pastoral and folk dances, so that the ballet includes a clog dance, a Maypole dance, and a Morris dance, among others.

The plot is a simple one: Lise (Roberta Marquez), the "Fille" of the title, loves Colas (Steven McRae), a handsome and dashing swain. Her mother, the Widow Simone (Philip Mosely) prefers that she should marry Alain (Ludovic Ondiviela), the idiot son of Thomas (Gary Avis), the neigboring rich farmer. Lise and Colas snatch embraces under Simone's nose while wedding plans go forward, until circumstances force Simone to accept their love and assent to them being married.

Along the way, there's a lot of fine dancing and good comedy. The first scene, in the farm yard, opens with a dance by a quintet of barnyard fowl. You will never think of "chicken dance" in the same way again--.
Ondiviela, as Alain, has a lot of very eccentric but effective choreography that underscores how foolish the character is. Philip Mosely in the travestie role of Widow Simone played the role lightly, and let the music, dance, and situation set up the comedy for the character. Roberta Marquez acts expressively, especially in the famous "if I were married" mime in the third scene.

The score for this production was based on the 1828 Ferdinand Hérold score, which "mashed up" themes from popular operas such as Rossini’s "The Barber of Seville" and "Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra", Paul Egidi Martini’s "Le Droit du Seigneur" and Donizetti’s "L’elisir d’amore", and was added to by Ashton's collaborator John Lanchbery.

The result was utterly charming, and a delightful evening at the ballet--once the show got underway. The Marcus Majestic cinema at Brookfield seems to have difficulty setting up for these encore showings, so, as with "The Bright Stream" a couple of weeks ago, we waited fifteen minutes past showtime for the staff to get things working. Once that was done, however, things did run without a hitch.
Late May is proving a good time for ballet for us. On Tuesday evening, May 15th, we braved a sudden thunderstorm to get out to the Marcus Majestic in Brookfield, to see the Bolshoi Ballet's production of "The Bright Stream," to music by Dimity Shostakovich, and choreography by Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov.

Georgie knew the music from recordings, but had never seen the ballet because it was suppressed by the Soviet state after its 1935 opening, and was never performed again until revived by the Bolshoi in 2003. (Shostakovich had generally bad luck with the reception of his major works, and struck out with his ballets. His first,the 1930 "Golden Age," was censored. The second, "The Bolt", 1931, closed after one performance. "The Bright Stream" was surpressed solely for being a comedic ballet, when State policy favored serious drama in all things.)

"The Bright Stream" is the name of a collective farm, or kokholz, in the Caucasus. Zina (Svetlana Lunkina), a former ballet student, lives there with her husband Piotr (Mikhail Lobukhin), an agriculture student. As the ballet opens, they and other members of the collective have come to the train station to welcome members of a ballet company who have been detailed to provide entertainment for Bright Stream's harvest festival. Zina is at first delighted to find that the prima ballerina of the corps (Maria Alexandrova)is her old schoolmate. Together, they dance a piece that they both know, and Zina demonstrates that she still has much of her ability. However, Zina is not delighted when Piotr, smitten with the glamorous ballerina, flirts with her.

Others from the countryside around are invited to the festival, including the comic foils, characters known in the program as "the old Dacha Dweller" (a kulak, or "rich peasant")(Alexei Loparevich)and his wife, "Anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is Dacha Dweller" (Anastasia Vinokur). The old man also makes a strong, if oafish, play for the beautiful dancer, while his wife comes on to the dancer's handsome male partner (Ruslan Skvortsov).

The young women of the kokoltz join forces with the ballet corps in deciding to make fools of both the lustful couple and of Piotr. It is decided that Skvortsov, disguised as a woman, will keep an assignation with the old man; that Alexandrova, disguised as a man, will rendesvous with the old woman; and that Zina, disguised as Alexandrova, will keep a meeting with Piotr, her husband.

These incidents take up the second scene of the first act, and showcase some wonderfully funny dancing and acting. Skvortsov, 'en travestie' makes an unlikely woman, showing, as he does, a thick thatch of chest hair above his low-necked gown. However, the old peasant has lost his glasses stumbling around in the dark and is fooled, and attempts a feeble and clumsy courting dance with the disguised dancer. Things are little better with Alexandrova; the old woman pursues her doggedly. Unlike opera, there are few "breeches" roles in ballet, and it is rare to see a woman dance a man's role. Alexandrova, who had demonstrated ample strength and power in the first scene, does so admirably. At last, pursuing their respective objects of desire, the old man and old woman come across one another, realize the other is up to no good, and an argument ensues that ends with the woman chasing the man off, armed with his antique shotgun.

Zina, dressed in the ballerina's performance costume, which includes a domino mask, meets Piotr and dances a flirtatious dance with him, although the audience can detect her barely restrained anger.

The second act is the festival day. When the ballerina is scheduled to dancer her solo, both she and Zina come out, identically garbed, and dance the piece together. When Zina unmasks, Piotr realizes he has been had, and humbly apologizes to her. They are reconciled, and the ballet ends happily.

The plot action is interspersed with folk-inspired dances by the farmers and townsfolk, set to Shostakovich's lively and happy music.

This was a delightful performance of a ballet we're probably not going to see anywhere else, at least for a while, and we enjoyed it very much.
It's rare for a ballet production to be revived only two years after its premier (as least in these parts), but Michael Pink's "Peter Pan" has proven so popular both here, and in Denver, where it sold out twelve performances out of twelve, that it seemed a good ideal all around.

For details of the action, you can see my May 17th, 2010, review at: http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/166578.html. The plot has remained the same, but the production has benefited from some tweaking, with choreography being tightened up in some spots, and expanded in others. There were some subtle changes as well. In 2010, regarding the first act, I wrote: "The action moves inside with readying for bed as John (Petr Zahradnicek) plays a hook-handed pirate fighting Michael (Nicole Teague) as a feather-wearing Indian. When the pirate loses his sword, Wendy seizes it and joins in, a nice bit of foreshadowing." In this version, Wendy has her OWN wooden sword, and engages John as an equal from the outset. The role of Tinkerbell is expanded somewhat, as she accompanies Peter into the nursery on his first exploration, making her first appearance earlier than I recall from before.

Marc Petrocci, Luz San Miguel, Susan Gartell, David Hovanhannisyan, Petr Zahradnicek, and Nicole Teague all reprised their 2010 roles as Peter, Tinkerbell, Wendy, Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, John, and Michael, respectively. This was a very good thing, as there's nothing like having done a role before and had time to think about it, to allow a performer to find ways to add depth and nuance to a character. This was true of all the principals, but especially of Petrocci, whose dancing is even more bravura than before, and who practically radiates the joy and mischief of the character. All of the cast integrated dancing, acting, and action into a seamless whole. The orchestra, with Maestro Pasquale Lorino also reprising his role, did great justice to Philip Feeney's exciting score.

The result was a performance that was an unalloyed pleasure to behold. It will probably be longer before "Peter Pan" comes around again, but we were very glad to have had the chance to see it this second time.
On March 7th, we braved the windy weather and went to the Riverside Theatre to see the Grigorovich Ballet company’s program, “Legends of Russian Ballet.”

We were reminded why the Riverside is one of our least favorite of the Milwaukee venues: the calendar listings adamantly refused to give a curtain time, saying only that “doors open at 7PM”, for what turned out to be an (approximately) 8PM curtain. Since our tickets were at “will call” we got there at 6:30 and ended up having to kill the best part of an hour and a half standing around before the show started. (Doors did not open until after seven as it was, and then we were not allowed into the house until closer to 7:30 since the dancers were still using the stage.) I found it incomprehensible that the management was not allowing the ticketholders into the outer lobby bar area earlier, which one would have thought might have allowed the sale of a few additional drinks, especially since the bartender could be seen to be ready and waiting. (The Riverside is under common management with the Pabst Theatre and Turner Hall, but both those operations seem better run--.) Sight lines from our seats in the front of the second floor were excellent, but the seats in the old vaudeville house are narrow, hard, and cramped for legroom, so it was fortunate the performance was fascinating enough to take my mind off such things.

Yury Nikolayevich Grigorovich is a Russian dancer and choreographer who had family connected with the Imperial Russian Ballet. He graduated from the Leningrad Choreographic School in 1946 and danced as a soloist of the Kirov Ballet until 1962. His staging of Sergey Prokofiev's The Stone Flower (1957) and of The Legend of Love (1961) brought him acclaim as a choreographer. In 1964 he moved to the Bolshoi Theatre, where he would work as an artistic director until 1995. His most famous productions at the Bolshoi were The Nutcracker (1966), Spartacus (1967), and Ivan the Terrible (1975). He controversially reworked Swan Lake to produce a happy end for the story in 1984. In 1995, he was accused of having allowed the theatre to plunge into stagnation and was ousted from office. Thereupon he choreographed for various Russian companies before settling in Krasnodar, where he set up his own company. After the death of his wife, the ballerina Natalia Bessmertnova, in 2008, he was offered the opportunity to return to the Bolshoi again in the capacity of ballet master and choreographer, an offer he evidently did not accept. Although famous for his own choreography, it is evident that he retains a great familiarity with the works of predecessors Folkine and even Petipa, as many of the pieces in this program were reproductions of the classical performances.

The program opened with “Le Spectre de la Rose”, a ballet of the Ballets Russes based on a poem by Théophile Gautier. The music, by Carl Maria von Weber, was his 1819 piano piece Invitation to the Dance, in the 1841 orchestration by Hector Berlioz. Choreography was by Michel Fokine and set and costume design by Léon Bakst. It premiered on April 19, 1911 by the Ballets Russes in the Théâtre de Monte Carlo, with the great Nijinsky in the title role. The ballet, for two dancers, is sweet and simple. A young woman inhales the scent of a rose before drifting off to sleep in her chair. The spirit of the rose enters in her dream, and leads her into a rapturous and romantic dance. He departs as the dream ends. Neither of us had ever seen this piece performed before, and were surprised, because it was a purely pretty a piece of ballet as we have seen. Vladimir Morozov as the Spectre was lighter on his feet and more graceful than any danceur I can recall, and worked wonderfully well with the tiny and nearly doll-like Anna Zhukova in the role of the dreaming girl.

(On an irreverent note, one can imagine that this ballet may be partly responsible for the idea that male ballet dancers are “poofs,” since the classical costume consists of a pink one-shouldered unitard decorated with petals and rosebuds, and a matching headpiece. I would say, it takes a Real Man to get out and dance in that outfit. This version showed off Morozov’s athletic physique to good effect, and he carried it off with confidence.)

Another famous piece we had never seen is the ballet “Raymonda.” This suite from the ballet was choreographed by Grigorovich, with parts from Marius Petipa, to the music by Alexander Glazunov. We got a lengthy excerpt from the Second act, in which the Saracen king Abderakhman attempts to woo Raymonda by demonstrating his power and riches as shown by his sizable entourage of dancing slaves and servants, Raymonda, however, prefers to remain betrothed to Jean de Brienne, brother to the King of Hungary, and turns him down. When he tries to carry her off by force, de Brienne and his brother come to the rescue, culminating in a single combat between the two suitors, in which Abderakhman is dealt his deathblow, and begs Raymonda’s forgiveness before expiring. Raymonda and de Brienne dance a pas de deux celebrating her rescue.

This scene had very strong dancing by Dimity Gorlov as Abderakhman, who is by far the most interesting character. Most of the time is taken up various groups of the corps as his followers doing different vaguely exotic dances. I must admit my eyebrows raised at the six dancers costumed as ‘blackamoors’ complete with dark makeup. I know standards of “political correctness” and racial sensitivity are very different in Russia than here, but I really couldn’t see any compelling reason, other than tradition, for this choice, since there’s not much logic in the rest of the group, which includes “mariscos” or Spanish dancers as well.

The audience, which seemed to include most of Milwaukee’s expatriate Russian community, didn’t seem to object, and it must be admitted that the dance, as dance, was charming. (And the same dancers also portrayed Arabs, Persians, and Tatars, which they ethnically are not, either--.)

There was then a “brief” intermission—actually a half-hour—I don’t know if this was due to backstage issues or the house making up for lost bar time.

In the second part, we got a lot of shorter dances or excerpts:

The act started off with the street scene from the second act of “Don Quixote,” featuring the “Street Dancer,” and a group of toreadors, which was well done, but not flashy.

This was followed by the prelude and Waltz #7 from “Chopiniana,” which was a very nice small ballet in the Romantic style, and which recreated postures and gestures as well as steps.

Elena and Marina Louzins, Ksenia Burmistrova, and Svetlana Papazyan gave us as good a “Dance of the Cygnets” as we have seen.

This was followed by the Tango from Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Golden Age,” which is another piece that was new to us. The “Golden Age” is the Jazz Age, in which this first of Shostakovich’s ballets was written, and the Tango is a bluesy, jazzy take on the form.
Next, we had a curiously old-fashioned “Dance of the Four Gentlemen” from “The Sleeping Beauty.” This is a style in which the function of the male dancer is to lift or twirl the female dancer when it is his turn, and to pose thematically otherwise. The role of Aurora was very prettily danced by Ekaterina Konobeeva, but about all the men got to do was model their handsome 16th century cavalier costumes.

Rachmaninov’s “Spring Waters”, danced by Vladimir Morozov and Marina Luzina, was a very athletic and active dance, costumed in neo-classical Greek outfits.
The duet from “Scheherazade,” music by Rimsky-Korsakov, and choreography by Fokine, was, from a pure dance viewpoint, one of the highlights of the program, along with “Le Spectre.” The dancers (I think it was Tatiana Vladmirova and Alexander Schlukov—two couples were listed as possible, and no announcement made as to which--) performed the long pas de deux with grace and fire.

The program wound up with Borodin’s “Polovstian Dances—which was the first time we’d seen them actually danced. The first parts, “Gliding Dance of the Maidens,’ and “Wild Dance of the Men,” were quite a bit more balletic than folkloric, until we got to “Dance of the Boys,” which had a more ethnic character. The “General Dance” which ended the show, looked like good old Broadway hoofing to us, but was well done and good fun. The dancers were costumed as more-or-less Mongols, and the women as more-or-less Circassians, which leaves us with a good question as to where Polovstan (Polovstia?) is anyway--.
Overall the production was most impressive, with a couple of full-scale backdrops that must be a pain to travel with, and a full complement of gorgeous costumes, with “Raymonda” and “Golden Age” having the most beautiful outfits. I was a bit curious as to the use of obviously wooden swords in “Raymonda” and ludicrously small bows in “Polovstian Dances,” but these days I suppose it’s easier to travel internationally without any realish weaponry, even if bows and swords.

Ads touted the show as a “once in a lifetime” event, and, for Milwaukee, I suspect that’s true. One of two performances was canceled, and the remaining one was lightly attended, so I doubt they’ll be back. A pity, too, since the program implied that they were also touring Katchaturian’s “Spartacus” and Adam’s “Le Corsair,” both of which are rarely performed over here, and it would have been nice to have a chance to see them.
We began our Halloween holiday on Friday, October 28th, by attending the Milwaukee Ballet's performance of Michael Pink's "Dracula". This was a revival of the 2005 production (reviewed herein in my entry of Oct. 26th, 2005). Again, we enjoyed the ballet very much, although our observations were somewhat different from the first time around.

The Friday night cast featured Joshua Reynolds as Dracula, Petr Zahradnicek as Harker, Nicole Teague as Lucy, Susan Gartell as Mina, Ryan Martin as Van Helsing, Denis Malinkine as Renfield, And David Hovhannisyan as Quincy.

There seemed to have been some adjustments to the score (composer Philip Feeney was in the audience Friday night), as some effects, like the erratic knocking sounds in Harker's nightmare sequence, were more obtrusive, and there were parts, such as offstage choral voices, that I hadn't recalled from before. I thought these were generally positive developments although some of the special effects were a bit on the loud side.

Choreography in the villager's dance in act one was significantly changed, making them less sinister and more desperate seeming. Their mourning at the death of the baby and exulting at the death of the wolf, and almost palpable fear at the entrance of "Dracula's coachman" made them more human. Georgie says that Dracula's attack on Harker is one of the best male-male pas de deux in ballet, and I, and other critics, are inclined to agree.

The "tea dance" sequence in the second act is still too long: once it's been established that Lucy is the belle of the ball and has several men on her string, what's the point of the rest of the section? Admittedly, Pink did liven things up with some of the stage business he's so good at: a diva signing autographs, a waitress sneaking a glass of champagne; but it still seemed a long wait for the storm to break and Dracula to enter. Once that happens, the sequence where Dracula stalks unseen among the hotel guests, cuts Mina out of the crowd, and preys on her, was wonderfully creepy, helped by the lighting where he is continually in shadow, and the light is only on Mina.

There are other wonderful moments in the concluding sections: Lucy rising from the dead and attacking included a bit where Teague, one of the smallest of the principal dancers, leaps almost onto the shoulders of one of the tall men and seems to bear him to the ground. Dracula's cult of vampires' decadent dance celebrating their master's approach can be seen to be a parody of the genteel party dance of the second act. Dracula's defeat and dissolution is simply but elegantly done, a perfect bit of stage magic.

The dancing was flawless, and all the principals and company very fine. It must be admitted that Joshua Reynolds does not have quite the presence and "edge" of David Hovhannisyan, who was one of the dancers that created the role in 2005, and danced it in the Thursday and Saturday performances, but Hovhannisyan is a more experienced dancer and Reynolds may well match him in time.

As a side note, although it's not unusual to see a lot of girls and young women, many of them dance students, at a ballet performance, this evening it seemed that there were many more than usual, quite a few seeming to have come as a group, and who were very vocal in cheering the cast at the curtain call. Perhaps "Twilight" is having a positive effect on ballet attendance? Anyhow, this night, we got to see a REAL vampire--.
I suspect if you asked the average person to name a ballet, "Swan Lake" is probably the answer you would get: after all, just about every one has seen soem bit of it, or a parody thereof (the Muppets' "Swine Lake", or "The Trocks" doing the "Dance of the Cygnets" come to mind--). The white swan costume with the fluttering tutu has become the iconic image of the ballerina.

Given that, it's kind of surprising that the ballet had a troubled history--the world premier in Moscow in 1877 was a flop, and the ballet was out of the repetiore until substantially revised and revived by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in St. Petersburg in 1895 for the Mariinsky Ballet. It is this version that is the core of most modern productions, although there are many different versions and different endings extant.

The version presented by the Bolshoi Ballet is based onthe work of Petipa, Ivanov, and Alexander Gorsky, as revived and added to by Yuri Grigorovich, and gave a very clean and classical statement of the story.

In scene one, we are in the hall of a great castle, celebrating the knighting of the scion of the house, Prince Sigfreid (Ruslan Skvortsov). The Prince is not pleased to be informed by his mother that his next duty is to contract a marriage. Instead his is filled with ideals of pure love.

Enter Rothbart (Nikolay Tsiskaridze) a.k.a. The Evil Genius, meaning, in this case, the evil spirit of the place. Unpercieved by the Prince, Rothbart leads his footsteps to the Lake of the Swans, where Sigfreid sees and falls in love with the beautiful Swan Princess, Odette (Mariya Aleksandrova). If Seigfried can reamin true to his troth, Odette will be freed from the enchantment that requires her to be a swan by day, and a woman only at night.

Back at the castle, the Prince's mother has laid on a grand ball and invited the princesses of neigboring nations to attend in hopes Siegfreid will find one of them acceptable. Rothbart enters, accompanied by his daughter, Odile, whom he has enchanted to be the image of Odette. (As with most modern productions Odette and Odile were danced by the same dancer, Aleksandrova.)Failing to see through the glamour, Seigfried announces that he will marry Odile, and no other. However, the spell is broken when the company sees the vision of a white swan frantically beating her wings against the high window of the hall. Realizing he has been tricked into betraying Odette, Siegfreid rushes out.

At the lake of the swans, Seigfried begs Odette to forgive him. She is willing, but they are foiled by the fell power of Rothbart's curse. The Enchanter raises a storm that tears the couple apart and bears Odette away to her fate of being a swan forever, with Seigfreid left alone on the verge of the lake.

Whereas "Don Quixote" as a ballet is all about speed and flash in the dance, and "Coppelia" much concerned with character and storytelling, "Swan Lake" exists to be an expression of grace, beauty, and the subtle use of strength in the dance. Mariya Aleksandrova was splendid as Odette/Odile, having all those qualities in abundance. Her serene and soulful expression was perfect as Odette, with just the hint of an I-know-a-secret smile as Odile.

Skvortsov as Siegfreid likewise danced with grace and power, but was somewhat overshadowed not only by Odette, but also by Rothbart. This version gives the "evil genius" an expanded dance role, which Tsiskaridze worked to its fullest. Most of the time 'unseen' by the Prince, Rothbart hovers around him, sometimes leading, sometimes following, and making it clear he is pulling the Prince's strings. Rothbart was given a rather outre costume that reminded me of a pantomime Demon King, but it worked well for the role, underscoring Rothbart's inhumanity. Among the supporting cast, I must also mention Vyacheslav Lopatin, who danced the role of The Fool. This role has some very bravura dancing, and Lopatin was excellent.

Although this production was not perfect--on the big screen the occasional misstep is easy to see--it would be hard to imagine a better. As with all the Bolshoi productions we have seen, the corps and featured dancers were all drilled to the highest standard, with, as Georgie noted, as sharp a four cygnets as we have seen. We will be looking forward to a future season of ballet in HD.
On Sunday, August 28th, we went to see the HD broadcast of the Bolshoi Ballet's production of "Coppelia," as choreographed by Marius Petipa and recreated by Sergei Vikharev (with Enrico Cecchetti's 1894 notations) to the music by Leo Delibes. Natalia Osipova was again the prima ballerina, dancing the role of Swanhilda, and Viacheslav Lopatin as Frantz.

It was very interesting to compare this "Coppelia" both with the recent production by Micheal Pink and the Milwaukee Ballet, and the one we saw at the Vienna Staatsoper when we were in Austria. In this production, for example, Swanhilda's "look at me" pas de ane, in which she is trying to catch the doll's attention, opens the ballet, instead of being near the middle of the first act, which changed some emphasis later on.  We were somewhat amused to observe that the program notes indicated that the story is set in Galicia (northern Spain), despite the character names. The costuming was definitely Austro-Hungarian, with the countryfolk coming in to town for the festival definitely Hungarian, and their choreography distinctly Russian-flavored. In another curious detail, the current flag of the Republic of Austria flew in front of the village hall rather than the more correct Austria-Hungary--which just goes to show that, good as the Bolshoi is, they can't be perfect in everything--.

The dancing was, of course, very fine, and as close to perfect as one might see. The dramatic second act was as good as any I have seen, although I still prefer the dancing Coppelius role as done in Vienna. The introductory remarks made note not only of Bolshoi traditions not only in music and dance, but also in mime, and I was able to observe a consistent vocabulary of gesture in use by the characters--almost a sort of sign language, which was very interesting and made it easy to see when different characters were "discussing" similar things.

The third act was somewhat streamlined, with the scene in which Coppelius demands justice and is compensated with money, edited down to a brief episode where Coppelius stalks across the stage bearing his ruined doll in his arms (I was reminded of the scene in the 1931 Frankenstein film, where the villager comes into town carrying the body of his drowned daughter--). I thought it rather heartless that Coppelius' injuries were given such short shrift amid the general celebrations of the marriage festival, which keeps this otherwise gorgeous ballet from being my favorite version. 

EDIT: Re; Geography. Galicia is indeed a region of north eastern Spain, as I knew. However, Galicia (spelling anglicized from the Polish Galicja, Ukranian Halychyna) is also "a colloquial name imposed by the invaders participating in the Partions of Poland to describe the south-eastern territories of the First Polish Republic." (ref. Wikipedia), although the Hungarian version of the name appears to have been in use since the 1200's. In 1772, Galicia was the largest part of the area annexed by Austria in the First Partition of Poland.  Adjacent to the Carpathian Mountains, it is this region in which Hoffman's story, and the ballet, would have been set.
There are more and more cultural organizations making use of digital HD technology to project themselves into movie theatres nationally and internationally. Besides the Metropolitan Opera, we seen notices for the Los Angeles Philarmonic, and were interested by, but didn't get to see, the production of "Company" with Neil Patrick Harris. However, when Georgie noticed that the Bolshoi Ballet would be playing via HD in Milwaukee, we had to go.

Emerging Cinemas' HD service is not as seamless as the Met's. We were sitting fairly close to the screen and I could see raster scan lines, and there were a couple of momentary picture glitches. Nevertheless, it was still a very good picture, as though on were sitting on stage, and gave us a clear view of why the Bolshoi remains the standard of the world in Ballet.

"Don Quixote" has a special place in the history of the Bolshoi, having been created for that group by choreographer Marius Petipa, so they tend to pull out all the stops on casting, costuming, and sets. Danced to a luscious score by Ludwig Minkus (an underrated composer, in our opinion), the small dollops of Cervantes' novel that make it onto the stage serve as a framework from which to hang lots and lots of Spanish-themed dance.

The Bolshoi did a full version of the ballet, which, as the announcer promised, preserved the "good parts" of the Petipa choreography, with new parts by Alexei Fadeyechev. The real starring roles are those of the innkeeper's daughter, Kitri, (danced by Natalia Osipova) and her swain Basilio (Ivan Vasiliev). Both this dancers have marvelous stage presence and acting ability--particularly Osipova whose big eyes and big smile in her gamine face project wonderfully. In addition, they are among the most amazing dancers we have ever seen; speed, power, precison, grace--they had it all and more. They were supported by principals in the roles of peasants, flamenco dancers, toreadors, gypsies, and fairies, any one of which could have easily been a star dancer in any other company. We were pretty sure that most of the new choreography went into the first act where there is a lot of absolutely bravura dance that neither of us thought could have been done in Petipa's day.

All in all, just marvelous to see. If you are curious about ballet at all, I would recommend seeking out future Bolshoi shows: they are showing "Coppelia" Aug. 28, and "Swan Lake" Sept. 18th. You will see what ballet is all about.
On Sunday afternoon May 22nd, we saw a very fine production of Leo Delibes' ballet "Coppelia," as delivered by the Milwaukee Ballet, with the original choreography by Arthur Saint-Leon augmented with new work by Michael Pink. The story of the mechanical doll that is mistaken for human is one of several works adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman's story,  Der Sandmann.

It was a different, but equally enjoyable, performance to that one that we had seen at the Vienna Staatsoper. I recall that ballet as being very technically brilliant, with great power and precision in the dancing, but perhaps by contrast with Milwaukee's, a bit remote. Pink is a very fine storytelling choreographer, and it is always easy for the audience to tell what is going on, even in his very lively crowd scenes. There is no doubt, for example, when the lead character, Swanhilda, is telling off her wandering-eyed boyfriend, Franz. The pas de ane when Swanhilda is trying to catch the attention of the Coppelia doll, believing at the time as they all do that she is a real woman, is a masterpiece of growing frustration as the automaton remains oblivious to her efforts. There were some good running gags, such as the Swanhilda's father who hasn't quite accepted yet that he can't keep up with the young men any longer. The ethnic dances such as the Czardas and the Mazurka were redone by Pink (perhaps drawing on Milwaukee's deep folk dance resources) with new authenticity. There were very handsome sets by Desmond Heeley who also provided gorgeous and (mostly)ethnically appropriate costume designs. (The festival dancer outfits which reach back to classical ballet are a not unpleasant exception.)

We saw the Friday/Sunday cast, lead by Julianne Kepley as Swanhilda, and David Hovhannisyan as Franz, both of whom were splendid. Kepley in particular both danced beautifully in a demanding role, but showed good comic timing as in trying to read over Dr. Coppelius' shoulder without his noticing, while the Doctor is trying to enchant the drugged Franz. The role of Coppelius was done as a non-dancing role, and very well done by actor Daniel Mooney. To make Coppelius a non-dancer is one of the standard options for this ballet, but making this choice was one area where we felt the production was weaker than Vienna's, who gave Coppelius a very dynamic dancing role.

We were very pleased with this production overall, and felt that Pink and the Milwaukee Ballet have become a first-class company.

Friday night the 29th, we went to see the Milwaukee Ballet’s production of “Esmeralda,” choreography by Michael Pink, and score by Philip Feeney. We enjoyed it very much.

“Esmeralda” is a reworking of Pink’s ballet, originally staged twelve years ago under the title “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The new title puts the emphasis where it belongs, on the gypsy dancer upon whom all the action centers. The new production is very tight and benefits from technological improvements in areas such as lighting that have occurred over the last decade.

For the Friday/Sunday cast, we were pleased to get Luz San Miguel in the title role. We have appreciated her work in the past, and she did not disappoint. She was well supported by Michael Linsmeyer as Quasimodo, David Hovhannisyan as Archdeacon Frollo, Petr Zahradincek, as the poet Gringoire, and Ryan Martin as Captain Phoebus. The entire company was tight and well-drilled, and lovely to watch.
The ballet opens with the Feast of Fools, a pre-Lenten carnival, wherein the poet Gringoire is attempting to present a street play, but is overpowered by the mob, which prefers more raucous entertainment. Quasimodo, the disfigured bell ringer, is elected King of Fools, or “Fool’s Pope,” due to his grotesque appearance, and carried off on the shoulders of the crowd.

In another square, Esmeralda dances for the people, but is interrupted by a denunciation by Frollo. He, in turn, is interrupted by the entry of the Fool’s procession. Frollo, who is both Quasimodo’s employer and foster-father, berates him and ends his participation in the festival.
Frollo, despite his puritanical ranting, is consumed with lust for Esmeralda, and orders Quasimodo to abduct her for him. The hunchback makes an attempt, but is foiled by Captain Phoebus and the city guard, who arrest him. Esmeralda is attracted to the handsome and dashing Captain, who makes it clear that the feeling is mutual. Esmeralda continues her way home, being stalked by Gringoire, who also lusts after her. Esmeralda lives in the “Court of Miracles”, a rookery of thieves and beggars. Gringoire is captured and condemned to death as a spy when his lack of skills proves he is not one of the brotherhood. Esmeralda takes pity on the feckless man and agrees to save his life by claiming him as a husband. However, she and her dagger soon demonstrate to Gringoire that the marriage is in name only.
Quasimodo is sentenced to be flogged and pilloried. The mob that cheered him as the Fool’s Pope is now happy to jeer and pelt him with refuse. Ever tender-hearted, Esmeralda gives water to the suffering man, and thereby earns his devotion.

In the second act, Phoebus’ well-born fiancée, Fleur (Jennifer Grapes), and her waiting women excitedly anticipate a visit from the Captain, dancing girlishly. When Phoebus appears, they are dressed formally and perform a stately court dance for him. Phoebus makes a grave faux pas by bringing in Esmeralda to entertain the ladies, who are put off by her (relative) half-nakedness and her sinuous and sensual dancing. Phoebus follows Esmeralda when she leaves, and purchases private access to her from Gringoire. Esmeralda is pleased to see Phoebus, and they dance a passionate pas de deux. This ends when the jealous Frollo, who has also bribed his way in, stabs Phoebus from behind. Esmeralda swoons with terror, but the commotion draws attention and Frollo flees, leaving Esmeralda to take the blame for Phoebus’ murder.

After a terrifying night in prison, Esmeralda is taken past the cathedral, where she is snatched out of the street by Quasimodo, and carried into Notre Dame, where the rule of “sanctuary” protects her from the law. As Quasimodo settles Esmeralda in his quarters in the bell tower, her acceptance of his help fills him with joy. Frollo struggles with his lusts, writhing and thrashing like a broken-backed serpent, but finally yields and attempts to rape Esmeralda. Quasimodo once again rescues her, and makes it clear that Frollo has no more power over him. Finding that the sanctuary of the cathedral is false, Esmeralda briefly considers jumping from the tower, but cannot bring herself to do it.

That night, the beggars sneak into the cathedral intending to spirit Esmeralda away to safety, but Quasimodo doesn’t understand this and combats the beggars. Gringoire, under cover of the row, leads Esmeralda away, but sells her into Frollo’s clutches. Frollo attempts to express his passion for her, engaging in a pas de deux that is a twisted parody of Phoebus’ dance with her. Esmeralda expresses only disgust and hatred, and Frollo turns her back over to the hangman. Raging, Quasimodo kills Frollo, but is too late to save Esmeralda from the noose. The curtain falls as he brokenly cradles her lifeless body.

Pink is a master of dynamism in dance. His crowd scenes are always exceptionally well done, and those in “Esmeralda” are no exception. He is also marvelous with small groups of three or four, and excellent with scenes of conflict. The second-act fight scene where Frollo is trying to hang on to Esmeralda, Quasimodo is attempting to shield her, and she is trying to escape both of them, is a marvel to watch.

San Miguel has everything the very demanding role of Esmeralda requires: strength, beauty, and sinuous grace. I was surprised that the role was done in pointe shoes, rather than soft slippers or character shoes as one might have expected, but the choreography which seemed more mid-eastern than “gypsy” worked well for the part. Michael Linsmeyer gave Quasimodo and active energy which seemed refreshingly more like a large and powerful child than like a beast or brute, emphasized in the tantrum he throws when discovering Esmeralda gone from the tower. Hovhannisyan’s Frollo was an almost Nosferatu-like figure, seeming to be almost impossibly tall and lean, with long, pale fingers grasping after his victim. (Makeup did seem to represent some homage to classic horror images: Quasimodo, with his bulging, misshapen skull, scarred cheeks, and fringe of red hair, reminded me of Charles Ogle in the Edison “Frankenstein” film--.)
Costumes were nice enough, rather generic, but generally appropriate, although Esmeralda’s bare midriff would have been quite scandalous in the 1400’s. The set, consisting of steps and pillars that represented the buttresses of the cathedral, plus some mobile pieces used in the street and interior scenes, was cleverly employed and evocative, aided by the very intricate and effective lighting design. Philip Feeney’s score, as presented by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Andrews Sill, was exciting, melodic, romantic, and sinister in the right proportions for a great night at the Ballet.
Sunday afternoon the 16th, we went to the Milwaukee Ballet for the
closing performance of "Peter Pan," an original ballet by Artistic
Director Michael Pink, with score by Philip Feeney. A first in
Milwaukee ballet history, and a good omen for the 40th anniversary
season, the production was entirely sold out for its four-performance
run.

The ballet, in three acts, was perfectly charming. The narrative is
familiar, but has some interesting additions. The first act is set in
the Darling family nursery, and deals with Peter's eavesdropping upon
the family, especially Wendy's storytelling. In a nice touch, he loses
his shadow when Mrs. Darling, alarmed by the intruder, slams the window
on it. Preparing to go out for the evening, there is a very nice dance
between Mr. and Mrs. Darling (David Hovanhannisyan and Jennifer Grapes)
which expresses their love and devotion to one another. (As is
frequent with the Ballet's major productions, the show was double-cast,
with a Thursday-Saturday cast, and a Friday-Sunday cast. However,
Sunday's "Peter", Michael Linsmeyer, was taken ill, and was replaced by
the Thursday-Saturday "Peter", Marc Petrocci-so extra kudos to
Petrocci, who not only danced a very athletic role flawlessly having
just done it the evening before this matinee, but integrated his
performance seamlessly with the second set of principal dancers.)
The act opens with a parade of identical nannies, perambulators, and
neatly-dressed children all dancing in unison, until the entrance of the
Darling children. It is immediately apparent they are "unconventional".
Besides being accompanied only by the dog, "Nana" (Elizabeth Glander),
instead of being attired in a pink coat and neat hat, "Wendy" (Susan
Gartell) wears a dramatic magenta cloak and her hair loose. The action
moves inside with readying for bed as John (Petr Zahradnicek) plays a
hook-handed pirate fighting Michael (Nicole Teague) as a feather-wearing
Indian. When the pirate loses his sword, Wendy seizes it and joins in, a
nice bit of foreshadowing.

The loss of Peter's shadow brings on Tinkerbell (Luz San Miguel) who did
an excellent job of portraying the petulant and jealous fairy.
Tinkerbell's costume was particularly clever, since not only did it
contain its own light sources, but had the small wings built
symbolically as part of her headgear, instead of trying to work out some
form of larger back pieces that would both allow the wearer to dance and
not flop around.

Peter's pangs when Wendy sews his shadow back to the bottoms of his feet
were clever and funny and not overdone. They flying scenes, done by
wire in the classical Broadway fashion, were elegantly done and very
well coordinated, with other dancers working the wires. The act ends
with Pan and the Darling children flying off to Neverland, the nursery
set folding back to reveal a sea of cloud with the tower of Big Ben
seemingly drifting past below.

Act Two begins by showing us Hook (Hovanhannisyan, playing the double
role as is frequently done in play and pantomime versions) and his men
in fruitless pursuit of Tiger Lily (Tatiana Jouravel) and her band of
Amazonian "Indians". (Of course, these are fantasy "Indians", just as
the pirates are fantasy pirates, but I think the Indians' very brief
costumes the weakest point of what was otherwise a very elegantly
costumed show. It must be admitted that even these were very pretty and
decorative costumes. Instead of the classic Disney-esque scarlet coat,
Hook was given a very handsome buff and dark red ensemble. I was amused
to note that instead of the Jacobean wig, Hook also had a more flowing
tangly hairdo confined by a bandanna, ala "Jack Sparrow" (no dreadlocks
or dangly beads, though--).) In the course of the chase, Hook stumbles
across Peter Pan's hideout, and starts to lay plans.

In another part of the forest, Tinkerbell has arrived ahead of the
Darling children, and bullyrags the Lost Boys into shooting down the
"Wendy bird" with bow and arrow. Peter and the others arrive horrified
to find Wendy apparently dead. Grief turns to joy as it appears that
the arrow was blunted and she was only knocked out by the impact, then
to rage at Tinkerbell's treachery, whereupon the fairy is banished.
Peter's attempt to introduce Wendy into the Lost Boys' domestic
arrangements eventually founders, continuing the piece's theme of
jealousy and possessiveness as a problem, and Peter expels the lot of
them into the hands of the waiting Hook, who has by now succeeded in
capturing Tiger Lily and her band as well.

Alone, Peter falls asleep, allowing Hook to creep in and poison the
tonic Wendy left for him. Tinkerbell sees this, enters to sound the
alarm of Wendy and the boys' capture, and prevents Pan from taking the
poison by drinking it herself. As she lies dying, her light fades, and
Pan appeals to the audience for help. This was nicely done: since
ballet is essentially mime, Pan can't make the traditional "I do believe
in fairies" speech. Instead, children in the audience were given little
light wands and instructed to wave them only when given the proper
visual cue. This was quite magical as the seats lit up with waving
lights to save Tinkerbell.

The third act opens with the triumphant pirates "abusing" their
captives, which translates to making the Indian maidens be their
partners in a mildly "Apache" dance number (I was somewhat reminded of
"Pirates of Penzance" and the pirates avowed intention to "marry"
General Stanley's daughters--). After locking the Indians away in the
hold, Hook approaches Wendy in a seductive manner that is rather
alarming until we see that he also wants Wendy to read to him. This cozy
scene is broken up by the sound of the Crocodile nearby. (The actual
appearance of the Crocodile in Act 2 is a highlight also--.) Pulling
himself together, Hook decides it's time for the boys to walk the plank.
This is Pan's cue to enter, sneaking aboard and disguising himself under
Wendy's cloak while she frees the boys from their ropes and the Indians
from the hold. A general battle ensues, which ends up with Hook walking
the plank to the joy of all-even the pirates.

The ballet ends with Pan delivering the Darlings and the Lost Boys back
to the Darling home, where Mr. Darling is literally living in the
doghouse due to his grief. Pan surveys the reunion from his lofty perch
as the curtain comes down on a joyous dance.

All in all, this was a wonderful piece of entertainment. The integration
of balletic dancing with the wire flying and fight scenes is an
accomplishment, although there's probably not a lot that would be
considered deathless dancing. The score by Feeney is pleasant, though
forgettable, but serves its purpose admirably to set the emotional tone
and tempo of the action. The orchestra, conducted by Pasquale Laurino,
delivered the music on time, with vigor and fine sound. The modular
sets, especially Hook's pirate ship in Act 3, looked good, worked well,
and were cleverly employed for effects. The overall result was fun,
emotionally satisfying, and a highly enjoyable afternoon at the Ballet.
On Saturday night, October 25, we went to see the Milwaukee Ballet
production of "The Sleeping Beauty," to the music by Pyotr Ilyich
Tchaikovsky. We were interested in this production for a number of
reasons. First, neither of us had ever seen a full production of this
famous ballet. Second, we were interested to see what Milwaukee Ballet
Director Michael Pink had done with it. We had heard from an
acquaintance who had recently seen a Chicago performance of the full
original choreography by Marius Petipa, and who had reported that it
was rather dull. However, when the papers reported that Pink had cut
an hour's worth of repetitions and reworked framing material while
retaining the classic Petipa set pieces, we were enthusiastic.

What we got was indeed a "good parts version," with some of Pink's
trademarks added. As noted here previously, he does the evil/weird
characters awfully well, and the villainess Carabosse (danced by
Jeannette Marie Hanley) is no exception. She has been given four
goblinoid minions (Marc Petrocci, Garet Erwin, Katie Rideout, and Bret
Samson) who most often move as one entity with Carabosse as they
crawl, writhe and spin about the stage, sometimes carrying Carabosse,
and sometimes seeming to drag her like out-of-control horses.

The ballet opens with Carabosse dancing her curse of barrenness on the
King and Queen (Denis Malenkine and Nadia Thompson, the company's
Ballet Master and Mistress), whose monarchy she hopes to bring to an
end. Instead, the Lilac Fairy (Diana Setsura) provides the royal
couple with a baby girl that they discover under a rose bush in the
garden, and decide to raise as their own.

The story proceeds in the familiar fashion: there is a christening
celebration, and the various fairies bestow gifts of honesty, grace,
prosperity, song, and generosity. Enter Carabosse, who professes
outrage at not having been invited. The King blames the lapse on his
Master of Ceremonies, Catalbutte (Joel Hathaway), who is carried off
to punishment by Carabosse's servants. Not mollified, she then
pronounces her dreadful "gift"--that on her sixteenth birthday, the
child will prick her finger on the thorn of a red rose, and die. The
Lilac Fairy again intervenes, and amends the curse so that the
Princess will instead sleep for a hundred years until awakened by the
kiss of a Prince.

The second scene again starts with Carabosse, who creates a simulacrum
of a young girl, and arms it with the poisoned red rose. The scene then
transitions to Princess Aurora's sixteenth birthday celebration. Luz San
Michel, petite even among ballerinas, expresses the Princess very well,
charmingly receiving homage from her subjects. It is in this scene that
the famous "Sleeping Beauty Waltz" is heard, although choreographically
it is a pretty round dance done by the peasants in honor of their
Princess. After Aurora flirts with her four suitors, the rose child
(Amelia Foss) appears and teases her with the red rose, which she
eventually gets, and, of course, pricks herself. The celebration turns
to alarm as the Princess falls fainting. The King homes in on the rose
child as the culprit, but she is replaced by Carabosse. Carabosse fells
Aurora's suitors and is about to make good her prophecy of the Princess'
death with the sword of one of the princes when the Lilac Fairy comes to
the rescue. Not prepared to fight the Lilac Fairy, Carabosse disappears
with a mocking salute. Aurora is borne to her canopied bed, and the
Lilac Fairy casts the spell which will put the whole castle into
slumber.

As the second act opens, it is a hundred years later. We are introduced
to Prince Desire (Ryan Martin), who is part of a merry hunting party
hosted by the Duchess (Rachel Malehorn). The Duchess and other women of
the party have eyes for the handsome prince, but he is lead away by a
vision of the sleeping princess. In the most dramatic sequence, Desire
is waylaid by Carabosse and her minions. The stage was lit by swirling
green lights that well evoked a running battle in the deep woods. The
prince scatters the goblins and fells Carabosse with a blow from his
hunting dagger. Forest spirits and the Lilac Fairy guide Desire to
Aurora's bedside, where he awakens her.

The last half of the act is taken up with dances in celebration of
Aurora's rescue and marriage to Desire. Besides the fairies, other
storybook characters appear, including Puss in Boots and the White Cat
(Darren McIntyre and Susan Gartell) in a very clever and funny pas de
deux, and Princess Florine and the Bluebird (Yuki Clark and Marc
Petrocci) in a very athletic leaping dance.

As far as we could discern, the dancing was flawless and the orchestra,
conducted by Andrews Sill, well in hand. Costumes were pretty and not
overdone. We approved of Mr. Pink's decision to go with minimal sets,
but agreed with the Journal/Sentinel critic in that we thought the
cyclorama used to project sky and mood effects rather loomed
distractingly over the dancers.

However, that was the only quibble, and we were very happy with the
production and the performance.

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