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Tulsa Ballet - In White

'Vivace', 'The Concert', 'Bruiser'

by Gretchen Collins

November 4, 2007 -- Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Oklahoma premier of Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody)” was long overdue. Fortunately, Tulsa Ballet included it in their fall trilogy entitled “In White.” Also performed were encores of “Vivace” by Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Val Caniparoli and Stanton Welch’s ever-popular “Bruiser.” The always astute TB artistic director Marcello Angelini brought a perfect blend of programming to this autumn trio. “The Concert” filled a void many didn’t realize existed.

Robbins could be characterized as a little bit ballet and a little bit Broadway. In “The Concert,” he took a heaping of both, mixed well and served up satire to a dance-hungry audience. Robbins, who repeatedly utilized Chopin’s music for his work, here, breathed new life into Chopin’s “Mistake Waltz,” “Butterfly Etude” and “Raindrop Prelude.” Robbins went a step further by placing a piano on stage, making it the part of the action and the purpose for the growing cast of characters.

Nathan Fifield, TB music director, temporarily relinquished the baton of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra to guest conductor Brian Asher Alhadeff so he could show off his humorous side as he played Chopin’s music in “The Concert.” After Fifield removed enough dust from the piano keys to choke a small concertgoer, the insanity ensued. One by one, each powder blue clad TB dancer made an entrance, distinguished by a colorful hat, vest, socks, bags or cigar. There was the serious music lover who arrived early, two ladies catching up on the latest gossip, and an array of disparate humans all there for a different reason or none at all.

Soloist Alexandra Bergman, who is still remembered for her moving performance in Caniparoli’s “Lambarena,” played it for laughs this time in “The Concert.” As the effervescent dancer she managed to annoy just about everyone. She fluttered from one concert attendee to another propagating ill will, while, in her sheer happiness, completely oblivious to her effect on others. Bergman, at first frightened the timid Wang Yi until the soloist had exceeded his limit of patience, clubbed her and dragged her off stage.

Principal Alfonso Martín portrayed the hen-pecked husband. Marit van der Wolde, corps de ballet dancer, deftly handled the unsympathetic role of the overbearing wife. Unsympathetic or not, van der Wolde was appropriately puritanical and we loved to hate her. So did her husband. Martín was delightfully sloven. In fact, he looked downright comfortable. He displayed his ability to transform from love-sick Romeo to Marx Brothers comedian with only a change of costume and cigar stuffed in his mouth.

As we all frequently do while attending a concert, the various characters slid into that daydreaming mode and strange things began to happen. Martín’s character fantasized about killing his prim and petty spouse. But she proved impenetrable and the blade wouldn’t pierce her. Funny, he had no trouble stabbing himself.  His dreaming proceeded elsewhere and he was off chasing some tail. Bergman was handy. Her response? Demurely coquettish. But Martín’s worst nightmare chased her off. Alas, not his day, even in his own woolgathering.

The “Raindrop Prelude” was wonderfully danced by all with umbrellas striking artful poses. In this unexpectedly moving scene, everything seemed to dissolve into a Magritte painting. 

The canvas wiped clean, Martín appeared in red butterfly wings and antenna. His solo ran the gamut from comic proportions to dashing principal dancer stuff. What a hoot! Soon the stage filled with a swarm of butterflies. Pianist Fifield had enough. He produced a net and set out to add to his bug collection.

“The Concert,” a free flowing comedy of errors, needs to make a encore in the Chapman Music Hall very soon.

Caniparoli’s “Vivace” was made to order for Tulsa Ballet. Created in 2003, it is abstract and danced en pointe. When Angelini commissioned the work, he had very clear requirements in mind. “I wanted a relatively abstract work that could show off the technical abilities of our dancers,” he said in an interview. “I feel ‘Vivace’ is the expression of the vitality, joy and energy that are ever-present in dance.” TB costume shop supervisor, Jo Wimer’s smashing costumes in green and brown were the virtuoso combination of classical and modern.

Soloist Ashley Blade-Martín and principal Ma Cong danced lovingly in the first movement. In his solo, Cong’s batterie was crisp, his leaps and pirouettes crowd pleasing. The entire first movement seemed to be about freedom and flying. Caniparoli’s hand movements, in particular one, an extended upward palm, used several times throughout the work, seemed to connect and unify the dance.

There was a beautiful, gasping moment when Martín flipped and rolled Karina Gonzalez, soloist with TB. They do it so well. It seems to have become a signature movement for the two dancers. This duet received applause from a very appreciative audience.

In their solos, Martín performed a series of stage-covering leaps and turns. Gonzalez has a dazzling smile that never looks forced. Her landings were feather light.

The afternoon ended with a knockout. Welch’s “Bruiser” had TB’s dancers in tiny black athletic clothing and toe shoes, sporting black eyes and attitude. There was much war dancing, posturing and sucker punches. Welch created the sports metaphor to reflect real life relationships. He has said, “There was a parallel between boxing, wrestling and other sports with relationships and life.” As he pointed out, life can be tough and words can be like punches–with no umpire.

The piece had moments  à la “West Side Story,” with the intensity of gangs clashing, tempered by aprés sports. Although one landing didn’t stick, recovery was instant and professional. Overall, a “gym-tastic” presentation.

Angelini says of Welch’s work in “Bruiser:” “He has masterfully hidden it behind a facade of athleticism. Call it extreme dance.” Whew!

                                                                  

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