To set out to choreograph and dance the greatest story ever told would seem like a daunting task, particularly when that story is set to the grand music of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. The success of Carolina Ballet’s Messiah (choreographed by director Robert Weiss) is in the subtle telling of the story. The story of the the birth and life of Jesus Christ is moved by tableau images and short scenes such as this of the Madonna and Child (Alicia Fabry).
There are many striking scenes in the approximately two and a half hour ballet, including that of a magnificent winged angel, unencumbered by gravity. (Margaret Severin-Hansen)
The most remarkable scenes are those which include the entire cast of twenty-one dancers. Consecutive leaps and jumps of the sort most often seen in solos or smaller groups are performed by the entire cast repeatedly, lifting the visual effect to the grandeur of the music.
With linked hands the dancers move through complex and intricate patterns, which are baffling even though you can see them unfolding with ease before your eyes.
The most recognizable piece of music to many will be the Hallelujah chorus. This joyous conclusion to the first act brought the audience to their feet on opening night.
Gabor Kapin portrayed humble nobility as the Messiah, landing jumps and leaps of extraordinary height without a sound. Exquisite Lilyan Vigo has a unique quality of being genuinely present and committed that brings a light to the stage.
As evening length story ballets go, Messiah is a different kind of experience. Though there are a few simple props (such as long silks that create water effects, for example) the set is mostly bare, the costuming is simple and, because they are telling a story of telling a story, the roles aside from that of the Messiah are not defined. In between the tableau scenes, which do a remarkable job of recreating images from paintings, the large group dances could stand alone.
Adding to the visual feast is music provided live by chamber musicians, vocal soloists and the North Carolina Master Chorale, and light design creating magnificent shadows and moods by Ross Kolman. This production is a treat for the senses.
Opening night had a few rough spots, but those few visible blunders weren’t enough to negate the truly uplifting performance. The very grande finale where Jesus Christ ascends brought the audience reflexively and enthusiastically to their feet. This is a ballet for lovers of ballet, whether interested in watching a story take shape, or in the in the purely aesthetic aspects of an abstract ballet.
Review and pictures by Denise Cerniglia
Messiah is running this weekend only. Visit http://www.carolinaballet.com/program/messiah for ticket information.