Soo Youn Cho & Alfonso Martin in Tulsa Ballet’s production of John Cranko’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Photo copyright Julie Shelton and courtesy Tulsa Ballet.
Review Copyright 2011, 2017 Alicia Chesser
New introduction by and copyright Paul Ben-Itzak
(Editor’s Note ((not necessarily reflecting the opinions of the author, Ms. Chesser)):
A word needs to be said here about the cultivating of taste and the caretaking – in the active sense of that word – of a heritage, and the critical role an artistic director plays in these complementary missions.
Reviewing a 2010 Royal Albert Hall English National Ballet performance of Derek Deane’s production of “Swan Lake” in these pages ((see elsewhere in these DI Archives)) which successfully appealed to what she dubbed “middle-brow” tastes, Victoria Watts commented, “I see the merits for the company in presenting an unpretentious evening of dance with high production values and an astute awareness of what its audience might want.” When he took over the artistic direction of Tulsa Ballet in 1995, Marcello Angelini could certainly have settled with this standard. This is not to be snobbish about middle-American tastes; when it comes to story ballets, even New York ((or Paris)) sophisticates can be fooled by opulent trappings. And, having toured with Nureyev for years and been weaned on ballet in the birthplace of Taglioni, Angelini certainly had the chops to dazzle. Furthermore, as his “Nutcracker” proved ((see elsewhere in these Archives)), he can also whip out an original libretto when the occasion calls for it. Financially, it certainly would have been an easier path to tread than to convince his board to front the expensive costs not only of rights, but of international shipping of sets and costumes for a European production like John Cranko’s “Taming of the Shrew.” But Angelini – and here I have to guess that Nureyev’s influence n’etait pas pour rien – realizes something that not only more ballet company but more fine arts museum directors would do well to remember: When you are directing a ballet company – or, for that matter, even a modern company with a rich patrimoine – you are not just there to divert your audience, you are also there to share your rich heritage with them. You’re like a bookseller or librarian whose purpose should not just be to promote new titles but to introduce his readers to the classics, including 20th century classics. You also don’t pretend that everything started with you. And you are not there to serve your ego. ((Or pocket-book; large ballet company directors are often paid extra for their choreography.))
I also can’t help but think of New York City Ballet chief Peter Martins, who, with the doubly richest repertoire in American if not world ballet, from not just one but two giants, Balanchine and Robbins, continues, year after year, to infest the company’s repertory and waste his audience’s time with his unimaginative ((at best)) choreographies. For every Martins ballet that perturbs a program, I can’t help but think “Another 20 minutes of my life waisted, when he could have shown me more Balanchine or Robbins.” ((There is *one* argument that can be made for a ballet company’s director creating new work, even if the choreography is middling; to push and develop his dancers. This is why I don’t quite put another Balanchine disciple, San Francisco Ballet director Helgi Tomasson, in the same category as Martins; in his early work for the company, at least, even if it was compositionally not much more interesting than Martins’s, one of his laudable aims was to elevate the company’s technical level, which he found lacking when he arrived in 1985. Other Tomasson creations, notably “Nana’s Lied” for star Elizabeth Loscavio, allowed certain personalities to flower. I suspect that Angelini, who carefully chooses his choreographic outings, had similar motivations to this last for revising “Nutcracker”: the company’s production was tired, and a new setting couldn’t help but enhance the dancers’ emotional investment and enagement.))
Angelini, by contrast, is kind of the reverse of the gold-miner who descends on a country to mine its riches. ((This is not to ignore his cultivating of local talent and new work, for which he successfully pushed for the construction of a separate theater devoted to this task.)) He’s like the immigrant who arrives *with* a treasure trove of riches to share with his adaptive country. In a time when a new American president is making Lady Liberty blanche with shame by not opening *but closing* our borders to “the tired and the poor,” Angelini’s case ((I also note that both the stars featured in the above photo have “foreign-sounding” names)) also serves as a larger reminder that immigrants are not here to take and to diminish the cut of the pie available to natives but to give, and to expand the horizons of us all. – Paul Ben-Itzak)
TULSA — Classic tutu ballets like “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty” are often thought of as the ultimate yardstick for measuring the maturity of a company. But other kinds of ballets can measure qualities every bit as important as the technical prowess the classics put to the test. John Cranko’s 1969 “The Taming of the Shrew,” which Tulsa Ballet performed last month at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, is one of those other kinds, a work that tests skills such as theatrical range, character acting, and the ability to sustain narrative continuity. ‘Shrew’ has more in common with the Ballets Russes classics TB performed regularly in its early decades than with the ‘white’ ballets in the classical canon. In a ballet like Ronald Hynd’s “The Merry Widow” (which, incidentally, TB is bringing back next season), it certainly matters whether steps are done correctly, but it matters more that the dancers make the audience able to see the story and get behind the characters. ‘Shrew,’ based on Shakespeare’s play, is like that, which made it refreshingly different after the high-toned technical seriousness of TB’s last two programs, which included “Swan Lake,” a fine rendition of George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations,” and a mesmerizing performance of James Kudelka’s haunting “There, Below.”
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