“The Three Musketeers”
7 November 2014
Northern Jubilee Auditorium
‘All for one, one for all’ is among the most famous fictional mottos of all time. On Friday evening, the characters who so proudly proclaimed it came alive in a swashbuckling new (to) Alberta Ballet production, “The 3 Musketeers”. Acquired from the Northern Ballet, where it premiered in 2006, the ballet is one of David Nixon’s most intriguing creations. “The 3 Musketeers” was created to suit the very theatre-heavy style of the Northern Ballet (then the Northern Ballet Theatre), but in the hands of the Alberta Ballet, the ballet has been given a new life. Strong dance-acting underpinned by the glorious Edmonton Symphony Orchestra made for one of the best nights of the 2014-15 ballet season.
One of the greatest challenges involved with turning “The 3 Musketeers” into a ballet is the convoluted storyline. Nixon has simplified and sanitized the story (in the book D’Artagnan seduces both mother and daughter, and Constance ends up dying), but it still isn’t a story that is easily understood without careful study of the synopsis. When I first saw Northern Ballet perform the ballet nearly 7 years ago, the ballet seemed to trip over the storyline; the quality of the dance was not strong enough to make it work. With the accomplished dancers of the Alberta Ballet at the helm, the dance sailed through the story, carrying the audience along in a colorful spectacle. Even if you didn’t get every detail, it was easy to tell the bad guys from the good guys and appreciate the love and humour.
The ballet begins with the three musketeers as they are introduced to the soon-to-be fourth musketeer, D’Artagnan. The latter provides evidence of his mettle when the four become involved in an adventure involving love, scandal, treachery and one priceless necklace. We are in Paris where Queen Anne has been escaping her loveless marriage with the foppish Louis XIII by having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham. When the Queen re-gifts her anniversary gift, an elaborate necklace, to the Duke, the scheming Cardinal Richelieu and the Count de Rochefort – who have been intercepting the Queen’s correspondence, see their chance to gain power. They propose a masquerade ball during which the Queen can show off her necklace. What ensues is a rollicking adventure to recover the necklace, during which D’Artagnan finds love, adventure and his life’s calling as a musketeer.
The ballet takes in place in no fewer than 12 locations, with the action nearly seamlessly transitioning through the ingenuity of Charles Cusick-Smith’s sets. The core set is that of a wood-paneled room, which through a series of scrims, rotating panels, doors and painted backdrops becomes a ballroom, a bedchamber, a Paris street, the Port of Calais and Mme Bonancieux’s House, among others. David Nixon designed his own costumes; with the exception of D’Artagnan’s horribly cut pants, all were superb. Unlike many designers, Nixon has the knack for creating costumes that are lush without overwhelming the dancers, and using color to accent the story. The crimson of Milady’s cloak matches that of Richelieu’s robes, leaving no doubt as her position among the ‘bad guys’. The musketeers are dressed in similar, but more muted colors, with the young D’Artagnan and his love Constance is subtly lighter, paler, ‘purer’ shades. But without a doubt, the piece de resistance were birdlike the masquerade costumes. While the women wear headpieces with soaring plumes, the men’s are draped in brightly colored gauzy fabric strips. These strips swirl with the motion of the dance, both enhancing and elongating the movement and filling in the gaps on the stage. The movement also seems to last longer as the gauze hovers in the area for a few moments after the dancers stop.
Though the musketeers are undoubtedly the stars of the story, the ballet is a group effort with the corps being as important as the soloists in telling the story. While he provides plenty of soaring leaps for his male leads, Nixon’s choreography is perhaps most striking in the large set pieces. Seeing this ballet for a second time, one is struck by his ability to move beyond simple in-synch movement for the corps to the use of mirroring and sequential movement.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the dance of the ladies who accompany the king when he presents the necklace to his queen. These ladies are attired in dresses that skim the stage as they are fully en pointe, and stiffly pleated capes that expand and retract like giant Spanish fans. Their dance is an intricate juxtaposition of crisp, jabbing en pointe steps, and patterns formed by the opening and closing of their fan-like capes.
Despite the challenges of the choreography, the Alberta Ballet corps was in top form. If ‘Don Quixote’ looked slightly out of place on the company, ‘The 3 Musketeers’ fits Alberta Ballet to a “T”. This is a company that while not strong on bravura dancing, can meet the challenges of sophisticated choreography, adding humor without teetering into slapstick and telling a story through dance.
As D’Artagnan and Constance, Kelley McKinlay and Hayna Guiterrez demonstrated yet again that they are the starts of the company. Nixon fills his pas de deux with complicated lifts and demands extreme flexibility of his ballerinas. McKinlay and Guiterrez gave a clinic in how to dance a pas deux, soaring through a high lift with her balanced in a sideways position on his fully lifted arm and drawing gaps when he tossed her up into a high double (single?) turn before catching her without the slightest hesitation. It was the wow moment of the season – nothing in “Don Quixote” even came close. Nicolas Pelletier, as the Duke of Buckingham, also revealed solid partnering skills in the intricate pas de deux with Reilley Bell, as Queen Anne. With McKinlay slowly moving towards the later years of his career, the company needs to develop more male dancers and Pelletier’s performance puts him high on the list of potential leading men. His performance lacks the fluidity and emotional depth of McKinlay’s, but it is highly promising. Yukichi Hattori, Garrett Groat and Jaciel Gomez rounded out the quartet of musketeers, providing comic relief and their usual high standard of dancing. Hattori, in particular, is a master of comic timing mixed with effortless bravura dancing. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in jump! As Milady, Skye Balfour-Ducharme continued to display the talents that have made her the leading female dance-actor in the company. With a repertoire heavy in dramatic ballets, she has staked her claim to a very valuable role within the company. Much humor mixed with powerful dancing came from Alison Dubsky as Mme Bonancieux. Kudos also to new company dancer Leiland Charles, who as Cinq-Mars, had his first chance in a solo role. Though very much a work in progress, he impressed with his technique and presence on the stage.
Finally, the evening was made more special by the use of live music, played gloriously by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Peter Dala. The lack of live accompaniment was very much felt in “Don Quixote”, and made a world of difference for “The 3 Musketeers”. Prior to the curtain, company artistic director Jean Grand-Maître announced the formation of an acquisition fund, and one hopes that special emphasis is put on ensuring that live music is available whenever possible. Live music is crucial – bringing new productions only to dance them to stilted taped scores is no way to develop a company.