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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dance Review by Kathi E. B. Ellis: The Louisville Ballet's "The Three Muskateers"




Artistic Director Bruce Simpson introduced the Louisville Ballet’s Saturday sparkling performance of The Three Musketeers by recognizing the company’s Diamond Anniversary, reminding audiences that Louisville is home to the seventh oldest ballet company in the country. In an odd juxtaposition he also lauded the city as home to all four of the major performing arts, dance, opera, theatre, and symphony orchestra – and the evening proceeded with a recorded track (a not-atypical music choice for the Ballet).

For those familiar with The Three Musketeers – from the swash-buckling Alexandre Dumas novel to the many movies and television versions (including the newest movie premiering next month) – The late choreographer Andre Prokovsky’s retelling of the story sensibly streamlines many of the subplots and focuses on select events and main characters. His choreography, recreated by repetiteur Gilles Maidon, evokes the great classical ballets and at the same time embraces quirky and comedic moments that delighted the audience. 

Dancer/choreographer Andre Prokovsky on stage.
The brief prologue, featuring clean, spare tableaux and a suggestion of the riotous crowd scenes to come, efficiently introduces the protagonists d’Artagnon (Kristofer Wotjera), the French Queen (Helen Daigle), and the English Duke of Buckingham (Robert Dunbar). Just as the audience thought it was au fait with proceedings, d’Artagnon’s mode of transport – a mule – erupted on stage in true English pantomime style evoking chuckles from the adults and delighted giggles from the youngest members of the audience.

Both acts move smoothly between the myriad locations necessary to even a stripped down version of the story thanks to the elegant and smart sets of Alexandre Vassiliev. Act One begins with d’Artagnon’s introduction to Athos (Brandon Ragland instead of Eduard Forehand on Saturday evening), Aramis (Phillip Velinov) and Porthos (Ben Needham-Wood). Each musketeer is introduced with a divertissement in which their character is neatly defined through their choreography: the solid strength of Athos, the lovelorn romanticism of Aramis, and the rollicking Porthos. Each dancer satisfactorily embodied these traits.  The three of them and d’Artagnon came fully into their own with the clever and humorous fight choreography of their duel and subsequent duel with the beleaguered Cardinal’s men. In recent seasons it has been wonderful to witness the strengthening of the men’s ensemble, both in numbers and in quality, and tonight was no exception. Making full use of the levels in the set and the wide Whitney Stage, the dance/combat sequences energetically and, apparently, effortlessly dispatch the Cardinal’s men. In the garden of the Louvre we are introduced to the delightfully self-centered and easily bored Louis XIII (Ian Poulis), his Queen, and her lady in waiting Constance (Natalia Ashikhmina). The ladies-in-waiting were hard-pressed to compete with the king’s fussiness and distractedness; their dancing was precise and charming, and yet the king commanded attention! The intrigue is introduced as Cardinal Richlieu (Harald Uwe Kern) and Milady (Erica de la O) plot to reveal the Queen’s affair with Buckingham. Of course, d’Artagnon and the musketeers arrive in the nick of time to rescue Constance from the Cardinal’s men, and in a lyric pas de deux d’Artagnon and Constance fall in love. We are next transported to the Queen’s apartment and another pas de deux – depicting the passion between the Queen and Buckingham  -- a lush romantic interlude which also features bravura dives.

Act two moves to London (beefeaters on hand to help with this transposition, in case the audience confuses Paris and London) and Milady arriving at Buckingham’s chamber.  Miss de la O’s long, lazy battements as Milady waits to entrap Buckingham sensuously suggest her complete ease in the role of spy, a delightful contrast to the mischievously efficient means of neutralizing the beefeaters guarding the necklace Milady is sent to retrieve. The conflict between Milady and Buckingham is strongly etched and passionately danced by Mr. Dunbar and Miss de la O. Back in France with the necklace, Milady is tricked into delivering up the necklace to Rochefort, a member of the Cardinal’s men – actually d’Artagnon in disguise – in a feisty pas de deux. Back at the Louvre the Queen and Constance await either the revelation to the king of the missing necklace or rescue by the musketeers.  This scene, with the two waiting women, evokes their apprehension through a series of turns and twists with each partnering the other, the patterns thus made are both familiarly classical and alien danced by two women. The timely arrival of d’Artagnon with the necklace not only saves the day, but reunites him with Constance in another lyric pas de deux, bringing this sometimes rollicking ballet to a gentle and sweet conclusion.

The energy of the evening bounces back in a delicious coda-like reprise of the highlights, almost a two minute version of the evening, including the dueling bravura and a sharp solo from Miss Ashikhmina. A brilliant ending to complement a happy ending, right down to the firework display! Having first become familiar with Mr. Prokovsky as a dancer in his London Festival Ballet days, it was delightful to renew my knowledge of him, this time as a choreographer. His (1980) ballet version of “The Three Musketeers” is a worthy addition to the many other adaptations of the novel, and the Louisville Ballet embraces the energy and humor of the piece with panache.

A bonus for balletomanes this weekend was that Mr. Prokovsky’s widow, Elvire, and M. Maidon were in the audience.  A reminder that under Mr. Simpson’s leadership the Louisville Ballet is firmly connected with the wider, international world of ballet. A connection that can only continue to benefit Louisville audiences as the company embarks on its seventh decade.

The Louisville Ballet continues their season on December 10 with the ever-popular Brown-Forman Nutcracker. For tickets and more information go to www.louisvilleballet.org.

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