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Houston Ballet

October 19, 2012


Reviewed October 18, 2012

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Performances continue through to October 20, 8 p.m.)

Marie Antoinette’s story is a sad one. Having her head chopped off for the sake of the French Revolution, which is itself a sad story. A harsh punishment for frivolity. An intriguing tale of innocence, intensity and infamy. Topical really, when you consider the star gossip and obsession with celebrity of today. At least that’s what Stanton Welch, who has choreographed Marie for his internationally acclaimed Houston Ballet, had in mind when he first put this story on the dance stage in February 2009.

This is a big budget, two-hour-plus, three-act story ballet that takes us from the young innocent days of Marie Antoinette and her French dauphin Louis-Auguste, through the carefree and indulgent days at Versailles and finally to the imprisonment and execution.

In interviews, Welch has said he believes what we know about Marie Antoinette is innuendo and suggests she was a victim of the old paparazzi. Fascinated with her “character arc” from young princess to spoiled queen to mother to victim of the Revolution, Welch portrays Marie as human, with human spirit.

This is Houston Ballet principal Melody Mennite’s role. It was built for her and she dances it with a certain abandon. Never leaving the stage, Mennite’s Marie keeps the audience riveted on her story, her interpretation, her dancing. She’s lovely really and has several challenging duets to perform.

While the men in this ballet are noticeably confident and skilled, this is not a ballet for individual honour, beyond Mennite. Sometimes, there are so many artists on the stage – 50, maybe – that the corps becomes part of the scenic backdrop. Their harmonious movement reflects an “effect” of arrogant aristocrats, carousing courtiers or roughhousing rabble, without singling anyone out.

Some scenes are outstanding, such as Marie’s arrival at the French border, where she is stripped of her clothing and re-habited in the French style, or the colourful masque scene with her children.

Welch often plays with the dancers’ bodies as static figures in a scene, so that sometimes you cannot discern where set ends and character begins. It creates a curious distant and untouchable mood as if you are viewing a painting.

The choreographer’s unique choice of music by 20th century Soviet Russian composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich is a seamless accompaniment to this broad sweeping ballet. It provides a nice touch of melancholy, sweet strings and playful keys, performed for the Ottawa presentations by the NAC Orchestra.

The costumes, sumptuous 18th century style creations by Canadian designer Kandis Cook, take the audience into Marie’s intimate world. Cook’s set is not complex but provides palatial images, mostly in neutral colours that cast an old-world tone to the stage.


From → Ballet

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