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Ballet Iowa.

If anyone were keeping score of current productions, Jules Perrot would seem to be one of nineteenth-century ballet's least prolific big-name choreographers. Of course, Giselle and various restagings of Pas de Quatre keep his name on the charts. But didn't the guy do anything else?

Ballet Iowa unveiled one answer to that question in its season opener: Nayada and the Fisherman, a boy-meets-mermaid tale Perrot created in 1843 as Ondine, ou La Naiade.

Although seldom seen today in the U.S., this ballet has been around: premiering in London with Fanny Cerrito as its star; revised in St. Petersburg with Carlotta Grisi; revived there later by Marius Petipa; reconstructed for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1985 by Piotr Gusev, who also condensed it from three acts to one; and finally restaged "after Gusev" for Ballet Iowa by artistic director Konstantin Uralsky and his wife, Irina Vassileni-Uralsky, both of whom are Bolshoi alumni.

Despite all that mileage, Uralsky estimates that about 80 percent of the remaining choreography is original Perrot. How good is it? Well, it isn't Giselle--but it is a rather charming snippet of nineteenth-century style.

Not much remains of the original plot. A naiad, or water nymph (Mary Ann Raub) takes a fancy to a fisherman (Peter Lisanti) and decides to sample land-bound life. She discovers her shadow (the "Pas de l'Ombre," a famous Pavlova solo) and eventually joins the dancers at a village festival.

Gripping drama? Hardly--but it frames pleasantly varied choreography. The exotic Nayada is defined by a liquidly classical style, with gracefully flowing arms; her opposite number, the fisherman's village girlfriend (Elizabeth Harano), conveys down-to-earth appeal through sparkling beats and dazzling demi-caractere footwork.

Another nine nineteenth-century touch is the careful scaling of supporting roles to various experience levels. Everyone--from soloists to junior corps members--gets a chance to shine, and the dancers respond exuberantly. Ballet Iowa deserves kudos for dusting off this pretty little ballet antique.

However, there were signs that the ambitious program--which also included Uralsky's new Adagio and Vassileni's staging of Swan Lake Act II--was a major stretch for the company's resources. Occasional technical slip-ups were noticable (although most could be attributed to an unfamiliar, brand-new stage floor). Swan Lake was mounted very handsomely, while Nayada had no scenery at all, giving it a somewhat lost-in-space look.

On the other hand, Nayada seemed more finely tuned; the Swan Lake cast, headed by Bettina Sarmiento and Andrew Parker, looked stylistically well schooled but comparatively expressionless. Adagio, a darkly abstract study of the creative process, had the opposite problem: It was ably danced by David Thompson and company new comer Nicole Choules, but its Bolshoi-sized emotionalism seemed out of scale.

Still, Ballet Iowa has come a long way in its third Uralsky season. Its challenge is to extend and polish its two major assets: the Uralskys' seemingly endless supply of Soviet-derived repertoire, and its dancers' energetic willingness to tackle nearly anything.
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Title Annotation:Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, Des Moines, Iowa
Author:Williams, Jim
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Words:483
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