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ON CT & NY THEATRE

By Marlene S. Gaylinn
CT Critics Circle / ctcritics.org
June/2014

AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE
PLUS MEMORIES
Metropolitan Opera House, NYC

American Ballet Theatre (ABT)
recently opened its annual 8-week run
at the Metropolitan Opera House at
Lincoln Center. It was particularly
significant for me to attend its
“Classical Spectacular” program which
consisted of George Balanchine’s
“Theme and Variations” and “Duo
Concertant” plus, a fantastic revival
of Leonide Massine’s “Gaite
Parisienne.”

The reason this performance was
special for me is because I have an
indirect affiliation with ABT. I also
recall the Ballet Russes de Monte
Carlo and Leonide Massine’s original
production of “Gaite Parisienne.” It
was during the 1940’s when the
company performed at New York’s City
Center. The tickets were reasonable
and we sat in the 4th row orchestra.

Few people realize that Mikhail
Mordkin and Lucia Chase were the
originators of ABT. Mordkin and his
partner, Anna Pavlova, were highly
celebrated dancers who toured the
world and brought Russian ballet to
the old Metropolitan Opera House in
1910. It was a time when critics
didn’t even know how to describe
ballet.

Lucia Chase came from Waterbury, CT
and was heiress to a factory
fortune.When Mordkin opened a ballet
school in NYC, during the 1930’s;
Chase took lessons and danced in his
Mordkin Ballet Company, which she
financed.

In order to broaden the company’s
focus, Chase wrote Mordkin out of his
contract and engaged new
director/choreographers. The company
became Ballet Theatre and eventually
American Ballet Theatre. Since the
newly formed company consisted of
dancers that Mordkin had trained for
several years, you can imagine the
bitterness that ensued.

Mordkin was my teacher and I was
among his new generation of trained
dancers when I became part of the
Mordkin Ballet. Among Mordkin’s many
famous students was Connecticut
native, Kathryn Hepburn. Bambi Linn,
who performed in the original,
Broadway hits “Oklahoma” and
“Carousel” (and films) and later
resided in Westport, was also his
student.

Going fast-forward, there have
been a lot of changes since ABT was
formed. For example, its current
Artistic Director, Kevin Mc Kenzie,
included two works by the late George
Balanchine in his “Classical
Spectacular” -- which a sampling of
short, one act ballets.

Balanchine’s ballets were once
exclusively performed by his New York
City Ballet Company. Now that his
works are protected by a trust
agreement, other companies must
ensure that they will follow his
style.

George Balanchine was noted for
developing his own, identifiable,
dance-style. He often presented
abstract studies of fine technique
set to classical music. “Theme and
Variations,” from Tchaikovsky’s Suite
No. 3 for Orchestra, is a good
example of Balanchine’s precise
style.

Whether the tempo calls for
mathematical patterns, or the mood
changes to a more lyrical, romantic,
ebb and flow, what you see are
musical phrases coming alive on
stage. In other words, Balanchine’s
dancers were living instruments --
visualized sounds and rhythms that
were molded by his imagination.
The minimal setting of “Theme and
Variations” suggests a palace
ballroom. Although visions of
Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty”
ballet come to mind, especially
during the corps de ballet’s stately
polonaise, there is no story.
However, Balanchine’s structure is
still classical. The ensemble
introduces a particular theme, groups
of dancers transition into various
moods and tempos, and focus is
finally turned towards the two
soloists. The soloists, present
individual variations, combine in one
or more pas de deux, and the ballet
ends in a grand finale.

Here, Sarah Lane and her cavalier,
Danill Simkin, are the perfectly
matched, royal soloists. Exhibiting
brilliant technique during their
intricate solo variations, plus
episodes of mesmerizing partnering,
the couple evoked spontaneous,
audience approval.

As the title suggests, Balanchine’s
“Duo Concertant,” illustrates the
choreographer’s close collaboration
with his very, good friend Igor
Stravinsky. The work is in fact a
music and dance concert featuring
violinist, Benjamin Bowman and
pianist, Emily Wong, who share the
stage with dance soloists, Paloma
Herrera and James Whiteside.

Like “Theme and Variations,” “Duo
Concertant,” has no storyline
however, the piece is a departure
from the classical structure. The
musicians play their instruments
until the adoring couple is inspired
to dance.

How Balanchine could create a
tender, love poem to such screeching,
dissonant music is a wonder in
itself. Never the less, Herrera and
Whiteside are able to exhibit their
emotion through sustained,
spectacular lifts.

Leonide Massine’s “Gaite
Parisienne,” set to music by
Offenbach, was restaged by Massine’s
son, Lorca, and featured vibrant
costumes by Christian Lacroix,. In
my opinion, it was the best offering
that day.

The saucy, one-act scene is a Paris
café during the late1800’s. The crowd
features various social classes that
are having a grand time flirting with
one another.

The main characters are a “glove
seller” (Vronika Part) and a “flower
girl“(Misty Copeland) who attract the
attention of a competing “Peruvian”
(Craig Salstein), a “Baron” (Jarid
Matthews) an Officer (Sterling Baca)
and a Duke (Roman Zhurbin). Waiters,
Cocodettes, Billiard Players,
Soldiers, a Dance Master and several
Dandies complete the frantic scene.

The variety of dances includes
waltzes, marches, a lively quadrille,
and of course, the exciting can-can.

What I remember of the ballet’s
original production was the very
attractive, Alexandra Danilova, who
performed as the “Glove Seller.”
Danilova had achieved such a
reputation for this particular role,
that the audience immediately
applauded with excited anticipation
as soon as she entered the scene.
Choreographer Massine, who was dark
and slightly built, played a very
comical, Charlie Chaplin-like role as
“The Paruvian. I particularly recall
how his animated face lighted up when
he tried on a pair of the vendor’s
gloves. Putting them on only
halfway, the loose fingers fluttered
amusingly around Danilova’s slight
figure, while she playfully slapped
them away. Fredric Franklin was the
very handsome Baron, and the high-
kicking Can-Can dancers, clad in
white, ruffled petticoats were
naughty and colorful.

Although this fresh, ABT production
is slightly different from the one I
recall, Lorca Massine’s “Gaite
Parisienne” is also delightfully
exciting in its own way. Voronika
Part and Misty Copeland are
outstanding as the female, night club
vendors, while Jarid Mathews,
Sterling Caca and Roman Zhurbin
amusing competed for their attention.
Craig Salstein who plays the comic
“Peruvian,” adds some comic
mannerisms and makes the role his
own.

The costumes by Lacroix are so eye-
catching because the outlandish
combinations deliberately clashed.
The only small criticism is that the
carpetbags I remember Massine
carrying were more authentic-looking
– not the slim, pink, beach bags seen
here. Of course, the audience rose
to its feet, just as it did when I
saw the original ballet.

ABT continues with classical, full-
length ballets until June 28
Tickets: 212 362 2014

MARY POPPINS
Westchester B’way Theatre, Elmsford,
N.Y.

“Marry Poppins” is currently flying
into Westchester Broadway Theatre
(WBT) to the delight of children of
all ages. The story about a magical,
fun loving, English nanny who changes
a family’s focus towards the more
important things in life, is
undergoing a revival since the film,
“Chasing Mr. Banks.” This engrossing
movie explains how Walt Disney chased
P.L. Travers for 29 Yrs. until he
finally won the film rights to her
story.

According to Dick Van Dyke, who
played the role of “Bert” in the
Disney film version, Travers
disapproved of Julie Andrews because
Mary Poppins was supposed to be
short, plump, and not very pretty.
In any case, folks who remember the
popular, award-winning movie of 1964
will be interested in knowing that
Ms. Travers, at age 96, was still
kicking when she insisted to Cameron
Mackintosh, head of Disney
Theatrical, that only English-born
writers be involved in the stage
version. Julian Fellows (writer of
“Downton Abby”) was therefore hired
to re-write the script and more
authentically recreate the Edwardian
era. Luckily, Mackintosh was able to
negotiate the use of great songs from
the film by the brothers Richard and
Robert Sherman, which greatly
contributed to the show’s success.

When the stage production made its
debut in 2006, it was said that this
version more closely resembled the
author’s style. However, except for
the missing animation of the dancing
penguins, one would barely notice any
differences from the film. One
surprise was the “Brimstone and
Treacle” sequences which feature a
lip-quivering, holy terror of a
nanny, “Miss Andrew” (Jan Neuberger),
who effectively stole those firery
scenes.

Contrary to the author’s original
wishes, WBT’s “Mary Poppins” is
magnificently portrayed by Lauren
Blackman who is even prettier and
just as good (if not better) than
Julie Andrews. “Bert,” played by
twinkle-eyed Leo Ash Evens, will also
charm you with his singing and
dancing every moment that he’s
onstage. Your children will envy the
Banks’ children who are alternately
played by Michelle Moughan, Gabriel
Reis, Jane Shearin and Brandon Singel
and WBT veterans Joseph Dellger and
Leisa Mather play their sophisticated
English parents. The musical is
further enhanced under the direction
of Richard Stafford who also directed
WBT’s outstanding, “Fiddler On the
Roof.” His restaging of exciting,
inventive choreography in the
number,” Step In Time,” is one of the
best we’ve seen. Among the many
tuneful songs composed by Richard and
Robin Sherman are: “Chim Chim Cher-
ee,” “Jolly Holiday,” “A Spoonful of
Sugar,” “Feed The Birds,” “Let’s Go
Fly a Kite,” and the tongue twister,
“Supercalifragilisticexpialidolcious”

This production of “Mary Poppins”
will absolutely “Wow!” people of all
tastes and generations. Speaking of
“tastes,” this dinner theatre
includes a varied menu to suit its
patrons all ages and the convenient
parking is free.

Plays through July 27 Tickets:
(914) 592-2222 or BroadwayTheatre.com

SING FOR YOUR SHAKESPEARE
Westport Country Playhouse, Westport,
CT

For centuries, Shakespeare’s works
have inspired artists in many
fields.It was therefore inevitable
that a team of creative, theatre
people: Playwright, Deborah Grace
Winer, Music Director, Wayne Barker
and Westport Country Playhouse
Director, Mark Lamos, would gather
some examples of Shakespeare’s
influence on song-writing into one
musical review.

This lively, world premiere of “Sing
For Your Shakespeare,” currently at
Westport Country Playhouse (WBT),
features a 7-piece orchestra that is
situated center stage on a raised
platform. The show’s Co-conceiver and
Musical Director, Wayne Barker, leads
the musicians as he plays the piano.
Interestingly, Barker’s orchestra
includes an accordion and a harp
together with cello, bass, reeds and
percussion.The combination allows him
more freedom to add color to the
program’s wide variety of styles.
And, without a doubt, Barker’s
musical arrangements play a vital
part of this production.

Shakespeare’s famous sayings about
music are diagonally scrolled on the
flowing, white curtains behind the
orchestra. His black on white, Old
English phrases also frame the stage
and the optical illusion, cleverly
designed by Riccaardo Hernandez,
makes the performance area look much
larger than it is. In fact,
Choreographer, Dan Knechtges, has
ample space to add some dance
interludes.

The show’s multi-talented, singing
cast, under WBT’s Artistic Director,
Mark Lamos, performs in the
foreground. The polished, rich voices
of: Karen Akers, Britney Coleman,
Darius De Haas, Stephen Derosa,
Costantine Germanacos and Laurie
Wells offer classical, jazz and rock
styles. Their stage presence, along
with some acting and a little
dancing, is great too!

We were especially touched by
Britney’s soulful rendering of,
“Willow, Willow,” written by George
Forrest, William Shakespeare and
Robert Craig Wright. The “Shakespeare
Song” by Richie Webb and David Cohen,
sung by Stephen, Britney, Karen and
Laurie, will give you some real belly
laughs. Stephan Derosa also appears
as a very comical Shakespeare during
the show.

In the excerpts from Cole Porter’s
“The Taming of the Shrew,” tune into
Stephan when he recites his
particularly precise, “pitty, pitty,
palace” phrase in “Where is the Life
That Late I Led.” Along with his
comical, co-horts, Darius and
Constantine one cannot separate this
sequence from any Broadway
performance.The same, professional
standard applies to Britney,
Constantine and the rest of the
company as they tenderly render the
most popular songs from Leonard
Bernstein’s and Stephan Sondheim’s
“West Side Story,”
Where can you hear a selection of
lesser-known songs influenced by
Shakespeare’s works, see the
highlights of several hit shows that
are based on his plays, enjoy a great
orchestra and top singers, and all is
in one, convenient place?

Before Press Night, ticket sales
prompted the playhouse to extend the
show through June 28. So I guess,
that says something.
FYI: Educators, students get 50%
discounts and senior citizen same day
rush tickets are 50%.
Phone: 203-227-4177

This review appears in “On CT & NY
Theatre” - June/2014