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Cirque du Soleil or ballet?

Orange County
Segerstrom Hall
06/10/2016 -  & 11, 12 June 2016
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony N° 5, Opus 64 – Manfred Symphony, Opus 58 - Orchestral Suites N° 1, Opus 43, and N° 3, Opus 55 – Capriccio Italien, Opus 45 – Fatum, Opus 77 – The Tempest, Opus 18 – String Quartet N° 1, Opus 11 – Piano Concerto N° 1, Opus 23 (arr. Anders Högstedt)
Mariko Kida*/Ema Yuasa (Juliet), Anthony Lomuljo*/Anton Valdbauer (Romeo), Ana Laguna*/Marie Lindqvist (The Nurse), Jérôme Marchand*/Clyde Emmanuel Archer (Mercutio), Dawid Kupinski (Tybalt), Hokuto Kodama*/Jens Rosén (Benvolio), Andrey Leonovitch*/Pascal Jansson (Prince), Oscar Salomonsson (Paris), Daria Ivanova*/Jeannette Diaz-Barboza (Rosaline), Jörgen Stövind*/Hampus Gauffin (Peter), Arsen Mehrabyan*/Andrey Leonovitch (Father), Nadja Sellrup*/Daria Ivanova (Mother), Royal Swedish Ballet
Pacific Symphony, Raymond Kobler (Concertmaster), Eva Ollikainen (Conductor)
Magdalena Åberg (Set and Costume Designer), Linus Fellbom (Lighting Designer), Mats Ek (Choreographer), Eric Alm (Stage Manager)

(© Gert Weigelt)

It’s hard to imagine the historical depth found inside the Royal Swedish Ballet (RSB). Founded in 1773 by King Gustaf, RSB is the fourth oldest ballet company behind those found in Paris, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg. But as their two and a half century mark quickly approaches, the RSB has seen transmogrifications unfold in a bold and interesting way.

Surrounded by a family dedicated to dancing and acting, Mr. Ek’s most indelible impressions stem from his mother-choreographer Birgit Cullberg and her unabashed approaches that step outside the traditions of ballet landscaping. There is a maternal persuasion pervasive in Ek’s outlook, and if you think there’s a typo in the title, you’re wrong. The title wrests control from Shakespeare in order to reach beyond the status quo and explore women’s rôles in more unexpected adumbration. This study of powers, or “flushing out” of characterization, is particularly notable in Juliet, The Nurse and Rosaline. Undoubtedly, a strain of feminism surfaces. Mats Ek is known to radicalize or re-contextualize characters stating, “All great stories through time must be taken care of so they remain significant in our time.”

As a ruling standard, one would expect Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture as the musical footprint for this Juliet and Romeo. Instead, Mr. Ek dismisses this piece and ladles out a pocketful of other Tchaikovsky works (through thoughtful arrangement by Anders Högstedt) that fits in a cogent manner.

Set against a set of two fluidic black corrugated steel walls, Magdalena Aberg de-emphasizes Verona for a more sinister urban surrounding. Martha Graham is everywhere, particularly in costuming and dance. The movements are jarring and angular with hands frequently oblique and scoping into formation égyptienne. Subtle nuances are matched note for note, and, at times, there’s a sense of chaotic beauty to the Ek esprit. To better convey an up-to-date storyline, Ek utilizes a mélange of dress drawn from the “now” and even The Renaissance with its muted colored garbs which women widely stretch and spread in typical Graham formation.

(© Gert Weigelt)

But RSO’s ballet is almost borderline non-existent in the traditional sense of the word: one questions whether or not we’re actually at Cirque du Soleil. The corps’ grands jetés are spectacularly flawless while the whirlwind gyrations glance directly at Bernstein’s West Side Story and On the Town. Mariko Kida is more of a muscular gymnast, akin to Misty Copeland, than a Juliet who possesses grace and beauty. This is Mr. Ek’s vision however: depicting the violent nature between the Montagues and the Capulets with animalistic utilization and borderline pantomime. Ek’s Juliet is destined to be more dominant with less softness; however, in essence the opposite actually occurs: she’s rather childlike and swooning, succumbing to Romeo’s amorousness. Vulgarities (i.e. urinating, flipping of the finger and hands positioned on genitalia) are suggestions to reinforce elements of crudeness and veristic undertones. It actually works, but it’s not necessarily the best in taste.

The most graceful arabesques (albeit fleeting) can be found inside Daria Ivanova’s Rosaline with sporadic dashes penned for Juliet. Scenes are delineated only by number with a Tchaikovsky work attached. That said, along with Anthony Lomuljo’s Romeo, the assumptive “Love Scene” is excitingly clever, at times crude and raw, yet a bit endearing when set against the “Andante cantabile” from the Symphony N° 5. The Manfred Symphony drives home the final demise of the star-crossed lovers with high passion and intensity.

If any sense of lightheartedness is to surface, it's found inside the doors of the Capriccio Italien. Here we find Ana Laguna, The Nurse, being toyed with by Jérôme Marchand’s mercurial Mercutio, accompanied by Hokuto Kodama’s benevolence as Benvolio as he becomes toothless when struck by Laguna while aided by Dawid Kupinski’s Tybalt impishness and gumbyesque frivolities. The antics become very amusing when Laguna rolls out on a Segway scooter replete with cycling helmet, conjuring images of a rolling out from Wagner’s Die Walküre. The Pacific Symphony, under the direction of RSB's Eva Ollikainen, is highly articulate and well-rehearsed for this rather aberrant take.

Mats Ek is quoted, “solitude gives choices.” He’s known to spend hours by himself in isolation before convening as a group at which time he then considers the dancers' own personal points-of-view. After all, Mr. Ek defines movement as a pathway for individual expression.

At curtain call, Mariko Kida armed him to the stage, but he immediately positioned and deeply buried himself for final bows inside the second tier of his corps de ballet. Shyness and focus away from Mats Ek says a lot.

Christie Grimstad



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