Tulsa Ballet

"The Lady of the Camellias"

Tulsa Performing Arts Center
Tulsa, Oklahoma

September 27, 2002
By Jennifer Cody

The Tulsa Ballet did themselves well, kicking off their season with Val Caniparoli's crowd-pleasing ballet Lady of the Camellias, set to Chopin's piano pieces. Tulsa's Ballet patrons have known what a passionate ballet Lady of the Camellias is since its Oklahoma debut in 2000 where it received curtain call after curtain call, but in a tremendous break for the company it has recently become internationally recognized as well. When the artistic director of the Sintra Festival in Portugal saw a tape of the company performing Lady, he enthusiastically invited them to make their international debut at festival as the only American ballet company invited, where they performed for sold out audiences.

Perhaps this is why Tulsa presented such an impeccably polished performance on the opening night of their season… or maybe they're just that good.

The tragic love story is based on the book La Dame aux Camellias, the same book several motion pictures and the wildly popular opera, La Traviata, drew their stories from. It is a moving story of extravagance, deception, revenge, and the selfless giving and sacrifice that can only be borne of true love. The star of the ballet is the courtesan Marguerite, danced by principal Daniela Buson. She is mistress to the cold and jealous Baron de Varville (Wilson Lema), who supports her extravagant lifestyle. During a drunken party at Marguerite's apartment, the young gentleman, Armand Duval (Alfonso Martin), enters, and the two dance and fall in love despite the jealous warnings of the Baron. Soon after, Marguerite renounces the Baron's sponsorship and she and Armand move to the country together.

Though Marguerite is hiding the illness consumption, the two lovers spend a happy summer together in the country. But happiness cannot last long in a forbidden love between a respected gentleman and a courtesan. Armand's father comes to see Marguerite and begs her to end her relationship with his son in order to save his family's honor. Realizing that her death from consumption is growing near, Marguerite heartbrokenly agrees in order to save Armand's reputation. With a great deal of pain, she laughs at Armand's pleas of love and goes back to the Baron.

Back in Paris, Armand vows to take revenge on Marguerite's cold rejection of him. He takes one of her rivals, Olympe (emphatically portrayed by soloist Alexandra Bergman), as his mistress and they both mock her publicly as we see that she has become more ill. The jealous Baron challenges Armand to a duel and the Baron is killed. Thus, Marguerite has lost everything. In the final act, Marguerite becomes delirious; her existence is desolate in her once grand apartment that is in shambles, she dreams of her happiness with Armand and her promise to his father. In total despair, she finally dies poor, alone, and in disgrace.

In this ballet, many elements come together to form an effective and emotional work. First and foremost is Val Caniparoli's choreography, which is beautifully performed to some of Chopin's most romantic piano compositions. The production design is well done also.

The set, by David Gano, is designed to be ornate enough to portray the extravagance of Marguerite's world, but not so overpowering that it detracts from the dancing. Especially effective is the use of those same elements from her apartment in a ruined state in the last scene to reflect her own personal downfall. The costumes are perfect for the style of the ballet with flowing, romantic fabrics. Especially notable is Marguerite's nightgown, which is perfect for her bedroom scenes. The fabric is sheer and shows the form of her bare body, which really gives the feeling of her emotions laid bare during these scenes. This is shown even more so at the end, when she's even more simplified, with her hair down and her shoes off. At this point she is truly without pretension.

Overall, the choreography was both convincing and consistent, though there are several places where Caniparoli fuses some modern dance into the mix and it doesn't seem to fit as well. However, for the most part a flowing, romantically dramatic style of dancing dominates. Dramatic and daring lifts emphasize the mood throughout the ballet. During the first act's late-night party, wild, vivacious, high-thrown lifts show us the drunken mood of the party, while playful tosses during the second act's picnic emphasize a more carefree, happy, and perhaps even careless mood.

The corps dancing was very clean. Every arm held the same shape, every lift went to the same height, and every pirouette was perfectly synchronized. This mastery of unison is especially marked during the dancing at the picnic. Many characters are individually dancing playfully, and then suddenly, as if by accident, there is a brief moment of total unity among a small group of dancers. It brings to light the carefree and happy mood that the scene calls for.

The partnering in the ballroom scene, however, is quite a bit more refined. I saw influences from the Viennese Waltz during the ball, which shows a more formal style of social dancing. Alexandra Bergman, who played Olympe, does especially well during this scene. She fills her dancing with the sass and arrogance it needs in ridiculing Marguerite. Bergman makes it self-centered and cocky to show that their relationship is only for self-advancement.

A real dancing standout comes during Marguerite's daydreaming of Armand and their past happiness. In this dream, Ashley Blade-Martin portrays Marguerite splendidly. Her endless legs and passionate dancing made me want to see more of her as Marguerite.

This is not to say, however, that Buson did not do an excellent job. Her shining moment was in the final scene of the ballet. Close to death, she sheds her pointe shoes and lets down her hair (reminiscent of Giselle). To a poignant operatic aria (sung by Denise Baker), Marguerite dances her final dance with none other than Armand's father, the man who asked her to give up her happiness. And finally, she dances accompanied only by the sound of chirping birds until she dies holding nothing but camellias.


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Edited by Marie.

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