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theatre reviews

Volume 15/Issue 23

Trodding the Boards.GIF


The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

New Orleans Ballet Association, continuing to book major ballet companies from around the country, recently charmed its small but appreciative audience with two nights of extraordinary modern ballet when the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre visited the Mahalia Jackson Theatre of the Performing Arts, checking in with their tutus, toeshoes and extensive George Ballanchine repertory.

The first, and less attended, night with its three divertissments, was a warm-up prelude to the second night's presentation of Balanchine's gorgeous full-length Jewels.

That is not to say that Friday's presentation was in any way inferior to Saturday's. Beginning with Concerto Barocco, an early Ballanchine "barre" dance as a warm-up excersice to music by Bach, and ending with Ballanchine's Scotch Symphony (which is "Scotch" only by brunt of its kilts and tartans. Mendelssohn's music is devoid of skirls), these two thoroughly entertaining dances sandwiched the weekend's major surprise in the form of the second of the three ballets and the only non-Ballanchine work presented.

Entitled Return to a Strange Land and choreographed by Jiri Kylian to music by Leos Janacek, inspired by the memory of the great dancer and choreographer John Cranko and staged by Arlette van Boven, this ballet too was in the Ballanchine vein, i.e., pure movement motivated by the music with no story line. It still imparted a haunting feeling of desire and longing in four movements and was danced beautifully by ten members of this thirty-nine member company.

But the piece de resistance was the second night offering, Ballanchine's rarely performed full length 1967 Jewels-really three more divertissments related only by their titles, Emeralds, Rubies & Diamonds, whose only connection to their titles is the color of the costumes: green, red and sparkling white. The first, Emeralds, set to Gabriel Faure's Melisande & Shylock, takes on a French flavor with its voluptuous romanticism (and a brilliantly exciting pas de trois by Cassandra Seeger, Terence Marling & Willy Shives). Rubies is American-flavored set, as it is, to music by Igor Stravinsky and giving the male dancers an opportunity to shine, while Diamonds pulls out all the stops, utilizing the entire company and reflecting Ballanchine's Russian roots in a neo-classical ballet set to the music of Tchaikovsky. Here the ballerina, Laura Desiree, is presented by her Cavalier, Stanko Milov, in all her many glittering facets.

Ballanchine was a master at creating abstract dances that perfectly interpret the music utilizing classical ballet steps in a non-narrative form. There is no pantomime only constant, highly intricate movement. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is to be commended for not only preserving the work of this great Russian American genius, but also acquiring a company of dancers that look like, and dance as well as, the New York City Ballet.

The only drawback to booking such a large company is the economical necessity of not also booking the company's orchestra. Since Ballanchine's work depends so completely upon the particular music he chose to illustrate and interpret, one hungers for the theatrical excitement engendered between live musicians and dancers which this lacked, utilizing, as so many of the companys that come to visit us do, recorded music.

The Passion of Dracula

Le Petit, in attempting to capitalize on a holiday, opened a play called The Passion of Dracula Halloween night which fell fortuitously this year on a Friday. Indeed, the Times Picayune gave them its Lagniappe cover-a huge portrait of a Dracula, although not Le Petit's. As director Stocker Fontelieu illustrates in his program notes, The Passion of Dracula, by Bob Hall and David Richmond, is but one of many theatrical adaptations of the Bram Stoker 1897 novel, the most famous being the version by Hamilton Dean and John L. Balderstone, the first and still arguably the best.

So why would a theatre opt to produce a second rate version when the original is still viable as illustrated brilliantly by the 70's revival that starred the handsome Frank Langella as the leader of the "undead?" The only reason I can ascertain is that this particular version requires only one set; hence, economics played a major role in its selection. Certainly the writing was of no concern for, whereas the Dean/Balderstone version adheres closely to the novel, this version takes outrageous license, moving the action into the twentieth century for the utilization of electricity-lights that flicker when thunder sounds, a telephone which does not work, a strange mesmerizing machine also requiring electricity (and introducing hypnotism into the mix)-and so that references to Sigmund Freud will not seem too anachronistic, thus injecting psychology into the melodramatics.

Director Fontelieu's cast is likewise a spotty mess led as it is by an aging, poorly bewigged Butch Benit as the bloodsucker with little wit or charm. His main squeeze, Mina, is played by a spunky and obviously healthy Kimberly Patterson, who seems to grow rosier as the blood continues to flow. Peter Gabb as Dr. Cedric Seward in whose Gothic abode (poorly designed by Bill Walker, brilliantly rendered by scenic artist Chris Jones) all the action occurs is likewise ineffective as is his servant Jameson played stiffly by Paul Arceneaux. Lance Spellerberg as Jonathan Harker, Mina's fiance, is convincing but John Hammons as Professor Van Helsing, is quite ineffectual attempting, as he does, a poor imitation of a German accent while an interpolated character, Helga Van Zant, skews the melodramatics and slides down the slippery slope of camp in the form of the otherwise excellent actress, Kathy Taaffe (who becomes a sleep walking blondie zombie after her encounter with the Caped One). Yet another interpolated character, Gordon Godalming, Helga's love interest, is presented adequately but unbelievably in the inflated form of Jeff Martorell. Indeed, the only performer in this poorly written effort who comes off with any degree of credibility is the fly-eating Renfield, played here with consummate glee by newcomer Garth Currie.

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