Her singing didn't amount to much, or her dancing. But she was fiery, sexy, and dripping with diamonds, and audiences of the Belle Epoque loved her.
Today, few know the name of La Belle Otero. One who does is Brett Raphael, artistic director of Connecticut Ballet who has created a new, evening-length work about her life. Closer in form to a theater piece than a traditional ballet narrative, La Belle Otero uses the spoken word--dialogue, poems, reminiscences--as well as dance to move the story briskly forward.
The format allows Raphael to cover quite a lot of ground. He sets the first big scene in the Chat Noir cabaret, where Otero makes her Paris debut; another, at the Moulin Rouge, shows her as a star; a third, set in Zurich during World War I depicts her encounter with Dada. Other scenes show her gambling (she had a passion for roulette) and stealing men from rivals (another passion); still others comment on her life and personality.
If narrative is the ballet's strength, choreography is its weakness. Many scenes, including the last, "Casino Climax," end just as the dancing gets under way, while the treatment of the vernacular and period dances tends to be perfunctory. Exceptions are the "Rompers" dance, a kind of eccentric Pierrot number, and the "Dada Dance," which has the angular, asymmetrical design of early modern dance.
Especially disappointing is the choreography for Otero herself. Although she appears in nearly every scene, the role seldom conveys the thrill of her magnetic presence: in fact, with few sustained solos, it amounts to little more than posturing and flamboyant gesture. As Otero, guest artist Lynne Charles acts with verve, but her efforts cannot fill the void at what should be the ballet's imaginative center.
This is unfortunate, far La Belle Otero has much to recommend it--an interesting concept, handsome designs (by Nolan Curtis and Alvin Colt), a fine selection of period music, solid performances. "All the East is in [Otero's] eyes and all the flowers of passion," wrote Colette. Would that Raphael had brought some of those "flowers" to life.
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|Title Annotation:||Rich Forum, Stamford Center for the Arts, Stamford, Connecticut|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1996|
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