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SCHAUFUSS BRINGS JAILHOUSE TALE TO CHINA.

SCHAUFUSS BRINGS JAILHOUSE TALE TO CHINA PETER SCHAUFUSS BALLET HONG KONG CULTURAL CENTRE HONG KONG, CHINA MARCH 6-11, 2001

The Peter Schaufuss Ballet, a four-year-old Danish company, shared billing with international companies including Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project at the 2001 Hong Kong Arts Festival. Schaufuss, a former international ballet star and former artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet, opened his company's Hong Kong season with Midnight Express, a piece he choreographed last year. The story, based on Alan Parker's 1978 Academy Award-winning film, is about young American Billy Hayes, who was arrested at the Istanbul airport for possession of drugs and escaped from a Turkish prison after five years of imprisonment.

Music for the two-act ballet comes from such disparate sources as Mozart and film-score composer Giorgio Moroder. It's an undeniably theatrical production, as flamboyant as a Broadway musical. DIESEL Clothing's costumes for the prisoners are colorful rather than drab, while Steven Scott's dominating aluminum structure represents the prison and frames the drama very well. Schaufuss's narrative craft is concise and none of the scenes suffer from longueur. The story's violence is actually subdued.

His choreography overall, however, lacks shape and inspiration, and tends to be repetitive. The ensemble dances for Hayes (played by a charisma-less Quang Van) and his fellow prisoners are more effective than the solo dances, especially the scene in which the prisoners crawl like ants, their hellish lives an ironic contrast to Mozart's heavenly music. There is a moving duet for Hayes and his visiting father (Adam Luders), but the pas de deux for Hayes and his girlfriend needs greater emotional depth. The duet for the Angel of Death and Hayes's fellow prisoner Jimmy was beautifully danced by Zara Deakin and Johan King Silverhult, respectively. The climatic scene depicting Hayes's escape is feeble, though; it isn't the theatrical end one might expect after such a dramatic ballet.

Midnight Express was followed by Schaufuss's less successful "Tchaikovsky Trilogy" (1997)--The Nutcracker (A Happy Dream), Swan Lake (A Nightmare), and Sleeping Beauty (A Sensual Dream), danced on three consecutive evenings, at two hours each. Schaufuss kept only the skeleton of each classic and has devised his own choreography to suit his updated scenario and the limited resources of his twenty-five-member company. He has eliminated some familiar characters, such as Siegfried's tutor, the Lilac Fairy, and Catalabutte, and a new Drosselmeyer-like character called the Dream Master is present in each ballet as a unifying link. But viewers are left with the overriding impression that Schaufuss was preoccupied with the psychological implications of Tchaikovsky's troubled life, which he frequently alludes to in the ballets in an overbearing manner, and has neglected the dance values.

Of the three, his Nutcracker is the most successful, as this ballet lends itself best to adaptation. The Nutcracker has become an astronaut, and the Snowflake corps de ballet (as well as the Swan Lake corps) consists of both male and female dancers. The character dances in Act II, performed by Act I party guests, are quite vivacious. Another point of interest is the witty parody of Sleeping Beauty's Rose Adagio. Each of Aurora's four suitors lies on the ground, slightly reminiscent of the pas de deux in Balanchine's Agon, to support her in her attitude balances.

Schaufuss has incorporated some barefoot dancing for the swans and Odile in his Swan Lake, but the choreography is mostly banal and fails to sustain interest even for the short duration. Disappointingly, the central pas de deux at the heart of each ballet lacks transcendence; the White Swan pas de deux spoils Tchaikovsky's glorious music by having both leading dancers roll about interminably on the ground. Petipa's classics have been turned into dance theater pieces in Schaufuss's hands, and to aggravate matters, none of the leading dancers showed any artistic or technical distinction. Why Schaufuss chose the short, bland Quang Van to dance the prince every evening remains a mystery.

Schaufuss's intention was perhaps to make the nineteenth-century classics more accessible to the public. But other choreographers have done this more successfully; witness Sylvie Guillem's Giselle for the Finnish National Ballet as well as Derek Deane's arena version of Swan Lake for the English National Ballet (see Reviews, Dance Magazine, September 1997, page 121). Schaufuss would have done better to bring another reasonably good original ballet like Midnight Express.
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Title Annotation:Review; Peter Schaufuss Ballet
Author:NG, KEVIN
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Words:723
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