One doesn’t expect to go to the circus when attending the ballet, but that’s just what Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss delivers to the audience during the performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9th and Stravinsky’s Petruschka from Nov. 19th to 22nd in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.
Every inch of the stage is utilized to create a three-ring circus for Igor Stravinsky’s Petruschka (A Circus of the Mind). Pablo Javier Perez’s Ringmaster explodes onto the stage, whipping the animals and performers into action: Tigers (Lindsay Purrington and Alicia Fabry), Lions (Kiefer Curtis, Drew Grant, and Miles Sollars-White), Horses/Pony (Ashley Hathaway, Talya Krumholz, Sarah Newton, Elizabeth Ousley, and Jenny Palmer), Snake/Snake Charmer (Randi Osetek and Oliver Béres), Acrobats and Tightrope Walkers (Amanda Babayan, Carmen Felder, Elice McKinley, McKenzie Van Oss, Courtney Schenberger, Colby Treat, Reigner Bethune, Ike Hawkersmith, and Mamilian Isaacson). But the stars of the show are not the animals or the acrobats, but Petruschka (Sokvannara Sar), Columbine (Margaret Severin-Hansen), and the Strong Man (Marcelo Martinez).
With the added effects of colored spotlights and seating for the circus audience, the story of a romantic triangle unfolds. The original version of Petruschka, written as a four-tableaux burlesque by Stravinsky, focuses on three puppets, particularly Petruschka, a trickster and rebel known in other puppet theaters as Punch in England or Pulcinella in Italy. In Robert Weiss’ version of Petruschka, Petruschka is a mime, and his love for Columbine is challenged by the Strong Man.
The separate circus acts flavor the ballet with a vivacity that makes this ballet one for all ages. The costumes are stunning, the setting demands attention as does a three-ring circus, and the music. Well, it’s Stravinsky.
All of the principals: Sar, Severin-Hansen, Martinez, and Perez offer performances that are bright, passionate and fun to watch. Sar’s Petruschka reaches out past the stage lights to fill the auditorium with his personality. Severin-Hansen’s Columbine is light and flittery, almost a character none of the male dancers are unable to capture. As the Strong Man, Martinez evokes a masculine strength that could be over-the-top if he were to twirl the handlebar moustache he wears. And Perez’s Ringmaster is energetic and controlling. He is everywhere, and his role demands the most strength of the whole production, yet he never slows down.
As delightful as Petruschka is, the four movements of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is as deeply moving as any other ballet that the Carolina Ballet has produced this year. Each movement has a personality of its own, yet Weiss brings the dancers together in the Fourth Movement; and the message indicates that the movements inform each other as music, as well as dance, a message of which Beethoven would have approved. Weiss himself states that bringing the dancers together for the final movement (the Ode to Joy) speaks of the symphony movements each being a ballet within themselves, all of which culminated in the Fourth Movement. When he began working on choreographing this beautiful ballet several years ago, it is obvious that he rethought the other versions he’d seen through the years, and his incredible talent as a choreographer enabled him to envision the total symphony as a larger balletic work.
Though the music is always phenomenal, every other aspect of this ballet meets the mark, as well. The costumes, designed by Kerri Martinsen, are both contemporary and classic, simple blues, grays and whites that do not distract from the elegant movements of principals Lara O’Brien and Marcelo Martinez and soloist Alyssa Pilger.
Marcelo Martinez’s role as a tortured soul is one he embodies completely. His leaps are tragic and heavenward-reaching. His solo captures one’s imagination, and his musicality imbues his work with another level of artistry that cannot be taught.
Lara O’Brien’s work in this movement, as well as the fourth, is classic and sophisticated. She reaches through her neck to create lines that speak of a true star. When she leaps into Martinez’s arms for a lift, it is as though she supports herself and he is simply there to provide a base.
Only recently promoted to soloist, Alyssa Pilger holds her own against the more experienced dancers, with a style that is blithe and birdlike. She is deceptively strong and draws the eye when she battles O’Brien for Martinez’s attention.
In the second movement, a different triangle captures the stage: principal Margaret Severin-Hansen, company dancer Rammaru Shindo, and soloist Nikolai Smirnov. Severin-Hansen’s solos highlight her ability to inhabit the stage as if she’s 12 feet tall. Her leaps are fast and strong, and her arabesques delicate and precise. It’s in partnering that there is something clumsy in this pas de trois.
Shindo is a more natural and strong partner for Severin-Hansen. When she dances with Smirnov, it appears he’s trying to catch up with her and is regularly half a step off.
The third movement is a very pretty ballet with dancers clothed in white, matching a lighter and airy style of music, evocative of the theme of the symphony. Beethoven’s intent was the underline the music with themes drawn from the enlightenment and this movement truly introduces that feeling. The cadence in this movement confounds music historians, because it’s both faster and slower than the traditional adagio, but Robert Weiss’ choreography of the movement perfectly introduces the final and most recognizable of the four movements. Principals Lilyan Vigo Ellis and Richard Krusch command the stage, providing a most effective entrance for the culmination of all four movements.
All of the previously mentioned dancers join principal Jan Burkhard and soloist Yevgeny Shlapko onstage for the Ode to Joy, a symphonic movement that most people — even those unfamiliar with classical music — instantly recognize. The weaving together of all three movements, the dancers, and the music makes for a tableaux that is sometimes a bit confusing but always beautiful. The costuming pushes the themes, and the metallic colors speak of the contemporary, bringing a fresh feel to this classic ballet.
At the end of the performance, the audience responded to the performance in the only way they could: with a standing ovation and calls of “bravo/brava.” This is a ballet that should remain a standard in Weiss’ schedule every year. It’s gorgeously choreographed, stunningly set, and passionately performed. And if you call the box office now, you might still be able to obtain tickets!
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 18th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/carolina-ballet-beethovens-9th/Event?oid=4883259; and Nov. 14th Durham, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article45169692.html.
The Carolina Ballet presents Beethoven’s BEETHOVEN’S SYMPHONY NO. 9 and Stravinsky’s PETRUSCHKA at 8 p.m. Nov. 21 and 2 p.m. Nov. 22 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30.14-$73.14, except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.