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ODC San Francisco - 'The Velveteen Rabbit'

Real Rabbits, Real Dancing, and Real Tears

by Lisa Claybaugh

December 6, 2003 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

First of all, this production made me cry. This story always makes me cry, so it is a compliment to ODC that their adaptation retains all of the qualities that make the tale so touching.

This is a story about the power of love. A toy rabbit is told by another toy that he will become "real" if he is loved enough by his young owner. The rabbit believes this and is thrilled when the boy refers to him as real to his nanny. He then is distressed when he is teased by a pack of wild rabbits for being just a toy. After the boy’s bout with scarlet fever, the rabbit is left out to be burned and sheds a tear in remembrance of all his happy moments with the boy. The tear turns into a fairy that grants the rabbit’s wish of becoming real and takes him to the pack of wild rabbits for safekeeping.

The ballet uses the music of Benjamin Britten and a recorded narrator who also sings over the Britten music at key moments. The music was obviously very carefully chosen and compliments the various scenes and dances very well. The ballet opens with a flurry of snowflakes, setting the time as winter. This dissolves into the Boy, danced by long time company member Brian Fisher, fighting to stay asleep when really it is time to wake up. Mr. Fisher takes some death-defying dives into his oversized pillow and throws several mini-tantrums on his hands in a beautiful show of physical prowess and juvenile obstinacy.

Various other scenes follow the progression of the story and the seasons, which are delightfully revealed by the sets. Particularly poignant scenes include a scene in the nursery with the adult chorus tinkering around and jumping off the stage to terrify smaller members of the audience. The meeting of the toy rabbit and the real rabbits in the woods is another touching scene. The choreography for the real rabbits in this scene included much burrowing under legs and peeking from behind arms between the requisite capering and leaping about. The toy rabbit sits in one place trying to follow the real rabbits and getting more and more distressed until the Boy comes to take him back to the nursery.

The overall dancing of the company is very strong and expressive. The adult chorus is required to play many roles and they were very clear in their changes of quality and character. K.T. Nelson’s choreography is visibly different for each role, which makes it easier for the dancers and the audience to delineate roles without confusion or trouble. The real rabbits dance completely differently than the clockwork toys, who dance differently from the Boy. The Velveteen Rabbit himself has several movement motifs that pop up -- often including pulling his ears down over his eyes when distressed or sad, which absolutely yanked the heart out of your chest every time.

The set and costumes are very charming. They are sufficiently simple to be not overpowering for a small modern company, but still whimsical and youthful. The colors are bright and clear. The masked head of the title character is particularly well executed and really quite impressive.

Stand out performers included Yukie Fujimoto as the Velveteen Rabbit. She brought true compassion and heart to a role that is difficult because the face and head are completely covered. She has an incredibly expressive body. Jane Sato as Nanny and the Fairy also stood out. She has a very pliable face and impressive stage presence.

As an alternative to the Nutcracker, this ballet is probably a good bet for the younger crowd and their parents. Even a child unfamiliar with the story will be enthralled. This ballet completely and beautifully captures the spirit and impact of the original story. And that is the highest praise of all.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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