Throughout the year, venues and dance companies all over the world have been staging tributes to The Ballets Russes and its impresario, Serge Diaghilev. Honoring the centenary of the influential ballet company’s formation with re-imaginings of four of its most noted works, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater recently presented its own salute, 1909-2009: The Great Collaborators of The Ballets Russes.
The bill included three world premiere performances. Each stamped by Walsh’s innovative approach to movement and partnering, The Firebird, The Afternoon of a Faun, and The Dying Swan are delivered to the audience with their original titles and musical accompaniment in tact. However, aside from the program’s one previously mounted work, Le Spectre de la Rose, Walsh submitted compositions increasingly divergent in context and atmosphere from their inspirations.
The focal point of the evening was the company’s adaptation of The Firebird. Gone are the traditionally lavish costumes, sets, and exotic tale of good versus evil. Alternatively, this version’s characters, The Woman and Her Husband, are at war with each other within a stark and uninviting prison of despair and disenchantment. Stravinsky’s brooding and vigorous score is fitting support for the cerebral crisis that unfolds between the two lovers.
Though not a crime drama (unless murderous reverie counts), the one-act ballet is reminiscent of the film noir style. Frederique de Montblanc’s scenic design has a dark and dingy realism. Everything seems slightly off-kilter, from the crimson chandelier recalling Leon Bakst’s original Firebird costume designs, to sadistic shadow plays, to the moody contour cast by gooseneck lamps. Robert Eubanks’ expressionistic lighting evokes the frequently black and white world of this dark genre of cinema.
Walsh’s program notes describe a “contemporary and adult relationship,” one that has “lasted for a while” and for which the added stresses of kids, work, money, a secret, and a “general sense of disillusion” may have led to a lost sense of self. Frankly, having been married for over 12 years, I thought I might sense that familiar wrench of isolation that can occasionally develop between two united souls, or breathe relief when the couple resolve to move forward together. Despite strong collaboration and solid rendering, the work didn’t have the emotional impact I expected. Walsh’s choreography, however, is distortedly beautiful, sardonically sexual, and consistently bold. The one-act ballet features exquisite performances by company member, Domenico Luciano and guest artist, Marie-Agnès Gillot, the statuesque Étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet. Whether sparring, insidiously attacking, or destructively sulking the pair are captivating.
DWDT’s interpretation of Le Spectre de la Rose remains relatively faithful to the original. Domenico Luciano, as The Spirit of the Rose, is fluid and sinewy. He does not leap through an open window, but believably winds his way into the fantasies and dreams of The Young Woman, played in the closing night performance by Felicia McBride, who projects sleepy-eyed innocence even in her ecstasy.
The Anna Pavlova vehicle, The Dying Swan, was originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine. Though both were Ballets Russes collaborators, the impassioned, and often parodied, solo was created before the origination of the ballet company. Walsh’s swan appears at first as a glamorous and stoic figure. She sips from a cocktail glass while smoke from her cigarette creates a circlet for her blonde crown. Left alone at a crowded party, her vulnerabilities are revealed. Dancer Rachel Meyer’s intermittent tremble and angular form are subtly bird-like but the solo is too understated and remote to be deeply moving. Dispossessed of the spirited avian beauty which is its signature, The Dying Swan, emerges lifeless.
In Walsh’s satisfying Afternoon of a Faun, the mythical beasts of Nijinsky’s notoriously controversial (in its time) ballet mingle in a garden of reverence for Nijinsky, a being of legend in his own right, and homage to the artist Rodin. The cast of dancers are miraculously lithe and supple. Ty Parmenter and Randolph Ward, both in their first season with the company and playing The Faun and Orefaun, respectively, are especially dazzling when paired for Walsh’s complex partnering. Marissa Gomer, Felicia McBride, and Rachel Meyer stride across stage en pointe as The Nymphs. The illusion of increased length on already leggy bodies is staggering. Walsh, making a cameo appearance as The Creator grants awareness to his creation with skillful authority. Choreographically, he utilizes Rodin’s familiar sculpture of Nijinsky as an inception point and from there Afternoon of a Faun blossoms. It was a high point on the assorted program which most certainly represented a milestone of growth and maturity for Dominic Walsh Dance Theater.