Thursday, February 03, 2005

La Belle - Playhouse Square Center


The opening notes of Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky's "The Sleeping Beauty" are dark and somber. Wait, "Sleeping Beauty" is the story of a beautiful princess who falls under the spell of a wicked witch, falls into a deep sleep, is eventually kissed by a handsome prince, and they ride off to live happily ever after. Well, at least that's the Walt Disney version.

In fact, the tale, as written by Charles Perrault, is a story of forceful carnal characters. The moral, which is drawn from the original story states, "But desire with its ardor aspires to conjugal faith."

Les Ballets De Monte Carlo's production of 'LA BELLE,' as conceived by Jean Christophe Maillot, was performed at the State Theatre of Cleveland's Playhouse Square from February 3-6. The production was given the Nijinsky Award for the Best Choreographic Production 2001 and the Danza & Danza Prize for the Best Show 2002.

Maillot's interpretation explores all aspects of human relationships. It eradicates the original classical ballet version staged by Marius Petipa, which had little to do with Perrault's initial 1697 tale in which the barbaric Queen Mother's jealous rages lead to not only her own dreadful death, but to emotional torture for her husband, son, Beauty and many others. Maillot wanted to create an emotional masterpiece which centered on the dark elements of the tale, while at the same time respecting the euphoric and timeless love story that it has become.

In this interpretation the first act brings to life the joyous past of the princess as recounted by the Lilac Fairy to the curious prince. The second act centers on her rape, the princess's long sleep (as represented by her dance inside a larger-than-life transparent crystal ball), the arrival of the prince, her ultimate awakening, the continued battle with the Queen Mother, the death of the Queen, and the couple's eventual freedom from the ill-influences.

Though I would love to say that I was enchanted by the presentation, I can't. I found much of the staging very gimmicky. The props, the setting, the lighting, the costumes often overrode the impact of the choreography. I also found some of the story line so convoluted that it was difficult to follow. This was not aided by the program notes which confused rather than enhanced. As one of the people behind me whispered, "What do the program notes have to do with what is going on on-stage?"

This is not to say that the performance was bad. It wasn't. The dancing, as a whole was superb.

Bernice Coppieters, who danced Beauty, was breathtaking. Her perfectly toned body was accented in a skin-tight sensual see-through lace unitard. Her movements were precise, her dance interpretations flawless. As the prince Chris Roelandt was fine, but seemed to tire near the end of the performance when his movements became less precise and he lost some of his passion. Their scene in which she arises from the deep slumber culminated in a sultry duet which was punctuated by an arousing kiss that lasted so long that the audience started to titter.

Gaetan Morlotti as the dual-sexed Queen Mother was excellent. In fact, his curtain call was met with "boos." These were not as a negative but as a positive reaction to his effectiveness as a truly wicked person.

The rest of the cast was effective, but the male corps de ballet was sometimes not in sync. The large orchestra was impressive, giving the dancers excellent musical accompaniment.