Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer Robert Weiss has created a Shakespearean theme this year to honor William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death on April 23, 1616; and the latest ballet showcases another of The Bard of Avon’s great plays: The Tempest. Accompanying the nod to the master’s Tempest is a new ballet by Carolina Ballet choreographer-in-residence Zalman Raffael. The program also features a ballet to Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor, choreographed by Weiss, and a George Balanchine ballet choreographed to Valse Fantaisie. All are little gems, but the Tempest Fantasy piece leaves the audience wanting more.
Starting the evening’s performance are the lovely strains of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The stage fills with dancers in simple, modern leotards in muted tones. The title of the piece (Variations on a Theme) is reflected in the complicated solos, pairings, and group dances introduced by Raffael. The dancers work in small movements that need to be sharp and precise, but the group work appears often out of sync, and one wonders whether the dance might have been just a bit too complicated for the dancers themselves. The lighting is wonderful for this piece, creating some exciting tableaux on stage. Some of the partnerships are dynamic (such as the pas de deux by principals Richard Krusch and Lilyan Vigo Ellis), whereas others appear less charismatic. As the dancers move on and off stage, stealing their moments in the dramatic lighting, the strength of the dance also swells and wanes.
After a brief intermission, there is a perfect diamond of a ballet: Adagio. Every moment of this little beauty was gorgeous. The partnering of principals Margaret Severin-Hansen and Pablo Javier Perez created a strong chemistry, supported by some powerful dancing. Severin-Hansen’s strength is that every inch of her body is graceful and expressive; and Perez responds to that, his own body as actively engaged as hers. When he pulls her on the floor, her face and head are engaged; and at the end of the ballet, when the lighting narrows and pinpoints the two of them, the audience gasps. They truly complement each other.
Another strong partnership is that between principal Jan Burkhard and soloist Sokvannara Sar in Valse Fantasie, a Balanchine dance. Joined by a quartet of females, Burkhard and Sar evoke an accessible and light dance that is open and gay. It relies quite a bit on jetés and leaps, both of which seem effortless for Sar. Burkhard’s toework is flawless; and between the two of them, they provide a dance that is a joy to watch.
One more duo performs before the main ballet of the evening: principals Lara O’Brien and Marcelo Martinez in Meditation from Thaïs, choreographed by Weiss. The ballet opens on the pair in an embrace. O’Brien is long and elegant; Martinez is responsive and robust. There are times during a ballet when the audience’s attention might veer toward something else; but during this dance, the intensity of the dance itself, as well as the pas de deux’s synchronicity, demands the viewer’s full attention.
There is another short intermission, and Shakepeare’s Tempest literally storms onto the stage to tell the complicated tale of the sorcerer Prospero (danced by Richard Krusch), who is actually the deposed and exiled Duke of Milan, and his attempts to restore her daughter, Miranda (danced by company member Ashley Hathaway), to her rightful place. In order to do so, he begs the spirit Ariel (played as both male and female by Margaret Severin-Hansen and soloist Nikolai Smirnov) to conjure a tempest to lure his brother Antonio (danced by company member Kiefer Curtis), who has wrongfully acted as the duke, and King Alonso (danced by company member Drew Grant) to an island in order to gain back his rights. The story is complicated, as most Shakespearean plays are; and without detailing every scene, this reviewer can simply state that this ballet was worth the wait.
The stage setting mimics the sea and the shipwreck that Antonio, Sebastian (danced by company member Nicholas Fokine), and Ferdinand (danced by soloist Yevgeny Shlapko) endure. As they conspire, the plot becomes more complicated; and the dancing is often frenzied, to reflect the plotting. When Prospero and the other characters come back to the stage, all the loose ends of the story come together. He forgives Alonzo in a humble dance, as well as his brother Antonio, and his slave Caliban, then sets Ariel free.
Dancing the spirit Ariel as two halves instead of as a male (as indicated in the play) is an interesting choice and wouldn’t have worked if the dancers were in the least out of sync; but Severin-Hansen and Smirnov were well-paired, both in physical size and in dancing strength. When they are together, it’s obvious they are in charge of the magic.
But the stage is controlled by Richard Krusch’s Prospero. When he lifts a hand or indicates that he wants something done, his body seems to grow in width and height. He is perfect for the role, as is Marcelo Martinez as Caliban, a deformed slave who is tormented by both his master Prospero, as well as the spirit Ariel. Martinez grotesquely transforms his body to resemble the hunchbacked, wild slave Caliban; and his leaps and turns reflect both the harshness of his character, as well as the savage misunderstandings he has of human beings.
Ashley Hathaway’s Miranda is lightly danced, evoking a younger, innocent character who is swept away by her love for Ferdinand (Yevgeny Shlapko). She holds her own in comparison to the principals and soloists dancing other parts, whereas Shlapko’s Ferdinand echoes Miranda’s youth and impressionable nature.
The story’s intriguing narrative of magic and family drama creates an authoritative backdrop for dancing that has to evoke a passionate storm, tragedy, love, and challenge. Because so many dancers are moving around and across the stage in leaps and turns, it would be easy for a misstep to occur; but the corps seem to embody their characters, and the danced version of the story speaks to the audience as clearly as if every dancer has a physical voice. Yet, 30 minutes is really not enough time to tell the story; and one often wishes Robert Weiss would devote an entire evening’s performance to one play rather than grouping other pieces with a major work.
Next in the Shakespearean theme is the Carolina Ballet’s presentation of Macbeth, with opens on April 14th. Tempest Fantasy will continue through March 20th in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.
SECOND OPINION: March 4th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article64032992.html; and March 2nd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/tempest-fantasy/Event?oid=4986008.
Carolina Ballet presents TEMPEST FANTASY at 2 p.m. March 6, 2 and 8 p.m. March 12, 2 p.m. March 13, 2 and 8 p.m. March 19, and 2 p.m. March 20 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30.14-$68.14 (including fees), except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/tempest-fantasy and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/tempest-5538.
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).
Zalman Raffael (Carolina Ballet choreographer-in-residence): https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/dancers-entry/zalman-raffael (Carolina Ballet bio).
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/.