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San Francisco - 'The Velveteen Rabbit'
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
Edited by Lori Ibay
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