Every program has been a different experience this season at the Carolina Ballet. The two works in the current production, Fancy Free and Carolina Jamboree, are as different from each other as they are from previous programs. What they have in common is that they are fun non-traditional ballets.
Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free is a jazzy character ballet choreographed and set in 1944. Three sailors, Gabor Kapin, Pablo Javier Perez and Marcelo Martinez, on shore leave in New York, set out to find dates. They manage to catch the attention of two women, Lilyan Vigo and Alicia Fabry, using methods ranging from tomfoolery to harassment. The sailors take turns showing off for the women’s attention until the bravado escalates to a full-out bar brawl. The women become disenchanted and leave the three sailors alone. The men bounce back from the rejection when a third woman, Randi Osetek, comes onto the scene.
It’s a playful and fun high energy ballet with a clear and simple narrative. Perez, Martinez and Kapin are fireballs. A pas de deux by Lilyan Vigo and Gabor Kapin is a quiet moment that shows a sensitive side to Sailor Kapin. I grew up watching and loving Gene Kelly in MGM musicals like On the Town, a movie based on the ballet Fancy Free. Martinez nearly captures the essence of Gene Kelly. He has the athletic ability to, not spring, but push himself solidly into the air, and the grace to hang there for a time before landing softly. A few more tap dance lessons and the transformation would be complete.
Much of the time Vigo and Fabry sit, watching the men with the amused expression of a mother watching her young son show his muscles. And Osetek doesn’t make her entrance until the ballet is almost over. That doesn’t keep them from developing characters and wowing the audience. Vigo is poised and distinguished and Fabry is flirty and coy. Osetek is steamy like Cyd Charisse.
Fancy Free is a comical ballet, easy to watch and easy to understand. The playful boys-will-be-boys antics during which three men surround a lone passer-by and take her purse might be less charming to today’s audiences than they were in the 1940’s, but the dancers skillfully take us back to that time. The theme in Fancy Free is not a transcendent one. It’s a work set in and with relevance to Robbins’ time. He is quoted in the program notes as saying: “Why can’t we talk about the way we dance today, and how we are?”
The second half of the program is Carolina Jamboree, choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett to original and traditional music arranged by the Red Clay Ramblers, who are also present to play the music live on stage. (Here’s a link to the prologue to Part 1: Appalachia Stories Way Down Yonder)
Carolina Jamboree is a series of short dances in three parts, celebrating American and southern folk history and mocking southern stereotypes. Part 1: Appalachia Stories consists of six dances. Killing Floor, danced by Sokvannara Sar, Adam Schiffer, Yevgeny Shlapko and Nikolai Smirnov is powerful with long, low movements to a bluesy swing beat. Another notable performance from the first part is that of Cecilia Iliesiu in Red Rocking Chair. A harmonica plays the blues as Iliesiu contorts herself dramatically in inconsolable heartbreak.
Part 2: The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey is based on the Elizabeth City story dating back to the 1930’s. The narration by Bland Simpson and the band give this tragedy an authentic folksy feel. Gabor Kapin does a remarkable dramatic portrayal of Jim Wilcox, the boyfriend of Nell Cropsey, danced by Margaret Severin-Hansen.
Part 3: Fiddlesticks is like a Vaudeville show, with five unrelated mostly comical acts. Clay Buckner and Rick Good of the Red Clay Ramblers give the audience something different with You all Hid, announcing, “no respectable ballet will be complete without a singalong.”
At the end of the the first and third parts we are treated to the kind of high energy hoedown celebration you expect when banjos, fiddles and dancers are all in the same place.
How often do you see a ballet in which tap shoes would not be out of place? And here are two of them at once. You can see Fancy Free and Carolina Jamboree April 20 and 21 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and April 26 at Durham Performing Arts Center. Go to http://www.carolinaballet.com/ for ticket information.
See a few more pictures from the ballet at Arts View NC.