Charm and Delight from Ballet Ariel
A review by Betsy Schwarm
Production photographs by David Andrews
New productions of standard ballets are not unknown. Especially this time of year, many choreographers dream of putting their own touch on an old classic. However, Ballet Ariel’s fall production features two works based upon compositions not originally intended for dance. Carnaval was conceived in 1910 by revered choreographer Michel Fokine; the other, Sleeping Beauty’s Dream, is a Ballet Ariel original. The October 2 matinee – second of four performances overall – provided both artistic excellence and audience accessibility in a pair of fanciful presentations well received by all.
Fokine’s Carnaval dates from 1910, the same year in which he choreographed Stravinsky’s The Firebird for its Paris premiere. Carnaval derives from the Schumann solo piano suite (1837) of the same name. It was not a ballet until Fokine decided to make it one. A fancifully flirtatious sequence of pas de deuxs, solo variations, and ensembles, Carnaval deserves more attention than it tends to get. Even without a detailed plot, it still charms audiences, especially in Ballet Ariel’s staging by Oleg Dedogryuuk and Patricia Renzetti, an imaginative vision in lighthearted pastels – and light hearts, as well.
Of the dancers, the most demonstrative scenes and solo variations went to Alexandru Glusacof (Harlequin) and Maya Vought (Columbine). Their nuance of gesture and lightness of touch showed them to be responsive to the music, but also to each other, quite convincing as the betrothed couple they were supposed to represent. Eusubius (Robert Shelley) and Chiarina (Yoshiko Brunson) also won hearts, his elegant would-be lover gradually won over by her beguiling smiles and moves. Both couples were perfectly matched in interpretive style, as were the dancers involved in the more populated couples’ ensemble. Ballet Ariel’s Carnaval was not just a pretty ballet: it was also engaging, drawing close attention from the audience, even the younger attendees.
After intermission came Sleeping Beauty’s Dream, a Ballet Ariel original set to the music of Ravel’s Mother Goose. The composer had originally imagined Mother Goose as a suite for piano duet, though when a local impresario required a ballet in 1911, Ravel willingly orchestrated it. However, it is rarely danced, and no choreographer of Fokine’s reputation turned attention to it. Ballet Ariel’s re-invention featured choreography by company artistic director Ilena Norton and resident choreographer Gregory Gonzales. The ballet imagines that Sleeping Beauty, while in her charmed sleep, dreams of other fairy tale characters, specifically Tom Thumb, Beauty and the Beast, and the Empress of the Pagodas, as chosen by Ravel himself.
Robert Shelley was kept occupied with two distinctly contrasting roles: the Beast, emphasizing the character’s romantic side, and Tom Thumb, elegantly playful as he engages with several lady friends. Shelley brought both grace and athletic ability to the roles. In his care, what might have been cardboard cutout fairy tale figures became nuanced personalities.
The Empress of the Pagodas scene might not be authentically Chinese in musical terms. Nonetheless, the scene as presented was charmingly effective, thanks to Chloe Collins as the Empress herself, and to her group of Pagoda Dancers. Inspired choreography brought Ravel’s music to life, giving it lightness, though also drama when the music suggested something stronger.
Of course, one cannot have a Sleeping Beauty story without two fairies, one evil and one good. The darker side of that equation was danced by Christina Bargelt, with many an abrupt and angry gesture; the classic grace of Yoshiko Brunson as the Good Fairy made quite clear which fairy was which. Their costumes were also part of the characterizations, but dance speaks a thousand silent words.
As for Sleeping Beauty herself, Marcelina Lancaster-Gaudini spent much of the half hour ballet asleep and offstage. However, before the curse falls upon her, she brought to the character all the loveliness and grace that a fairy tale princess required. Once she awakes to Ravel’s shimmering Fairy Garden music, she again brought attention to the role that, after all, had drawn all these diverse personages together, including her Prince Charming Alexandru Glusacov.
Each of the ballets that made up Ballet Ariel’s fall production were sweet confections, but more filling, and more enduring as well. In a world of increasing chaos, surely there is a place for smiles of satisfaction. As to the fact that neither music nor choreography were already known to a standard ballet audience, consider that unfamiliar ballets can bring freshness to the dance experience. That is even more the case when it’s a completely new work that no one has seen.
At this writing, Ballet Ariel has only two more performances of the double-bill: Thursday evening at Parker’s PACE Center, and Sunday afternoon at Parsons Theatre in Northglenn. One can hope that the response will be such that Ballet Ariel will keep both works in its repertoire. Such charming ballets deserve to be seen again, and as one young lad at the October 2 matinee was heard to observe, “I really liked that!” The adults in the audience clearly felt the same way.