Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ballet Idaho Delivers Uneven Performance

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Some reveals have the power to utterly undermine a performance. At Ballet Idaho’s Russian Program—Friday, Feb. 14, at the Morrison Center—that reveal was watching Raymonda’s Wedding as Jean de Brienne (Andrew Taft) mechanically held aloft a frailly shaking Raymonda (Lauren Menger). Ballet isn’t a bloodless activity, but its virtues of polish and discipline were missing from the Russian Program’s first act.

Ramonda’s Wedding was as narratologically challenged as it was technically beleaguered. The ballet, with choreography by Peter Anastos riffing off of Marius Petipa and Rudolf Nureyev, dispensed with its story about a woman who falls for Crusader Jean de Brienne and a Saracen knight, reducing the dance to a series of group scenes and duets connected only by a recurring cast of characters.

Meanwhile, knees wobbled, chests puffed and cheeks flushed. Menger’s limbs shook and creaked: In the final scene, she looked as if she were held together by willpower alone. Chorus dancer James Brougham’s face glistened with sweat. This was the look of a dance company that was out of shape, under-rehearsed and had spent all night watching Season 2 of House of Cards instead of getting a good night’s sleep.

After Raymonda’s Wedding, it was shocking to see the evening’s second act, Scheherazade, performed with such elan. Based on One Thousand and One Nights and with choreography by Alex Ossadnik, this ballet told Scheherazade’s stories, as told to a jealous sultan, with modernist flair, lavish props and beautiful costumes by Megan Richardson. The titular character, performed by Phyllis Affrunti with shockingly red hair, oozed charisma as she glided in and out of the action on stage.

A frame tale in the mold of The Decameron, Scheherazade didn’t lend itself to straightforward storytelling; instead it persuaded, implied and beckoned the viewer into its world. Ossadnik’s choreography, executed with precision and personality by Nathan Powell (the Sultan) and Graham Gobeille, made its complex and nonlinear story compelling.

The Russian Program concluded with a selection of Tchaikovsky waltzes, ending with the "Eugene Onegin Waltz." This final and most lavish dance recalled the great ballets of the Russian golden age—indeed, it’s based on Alexander Pushkin’s poetic masterpiece Eugene Onegin—with sumptuous costumes, emotional tension and a hint of danger. For a program that began on such unsure footing, it ended confidently and with unanticipated emotional richness.


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