Landmark Production One for the Ages

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda
Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

BalletMet Columbus, Opera Columbus and Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus – Twisted: A Trio of Excellence
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
September 25-28, 2014

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

It’s a wonderful thing when what sounds good in theory is even better in real life. Such was the case in the landmark collaboration Twisted: A Trio of Excellence featuring BalletMet Columbus, Opera Columbus and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and chorus, September 27 at Columbus’ historic Ohio Theatre.

The world-premiere production combining dance, music and song proved to be the perfect meshing of all three with top-shelf performances by all involved.

Collaborations like these can be difficult to successfully mount for many reasons. Conflicting personalities, lack of artistic cohesion between the groups and production formatting that favors a singular discipline to the detriment of the others can sink a collaboration leaving the finished product uneven and uninteresting.  Fortunately, Twisted avoided those potential pitfalls and raised the bar on such collaborations with a stellar collection of truly artful moments. Mounting such an ambitious program, a rarity in Columbus, may have also been pushed along by the fact that all three organizations recently came under new artistic leadership (Edwaard Liang at BalletMet, Rossen Milanov at Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Peggy Kriha Dye at Opera Columbus), all of whom seem to be on board with taking artistic risks.

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda
Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

The program, hosted by the self-deprecating and amiable Christopher Purdy of WOSU-Classical 101, began with the Columbus Symphony, conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson, in the brooding “Prelude” to Act III from Wagner’s Lohengrin. The mood then quickly shifted to effervescent humor as an all-male cast of eleven BalletMet dancers along with Opera Columbus vocalist Justin Ryan joined the orchestra in Rossini’s “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville. Dancing in humorously creative choreography by Val Caniparoli, BalletMet’s dancers costumed in dress shirts, pants and suit coats used their coats as both costume and prop; pulling them up onto their heads like hoods and pretending to fly around the stage like airplanes. The clownish but well-crafted mayhem had the dancers using the coats as capes and blankets to hide under while Ryan belted out “Figaro! Figaro!”.

The nine sections of the program’s first act continued with more from Caniparoli to music by Puccini and choreographer Ma Cong in a ballet to music by Mozart. It was however, BalletMet’s own Jimmy Orrante’s choreography for five dancers performed to the Met Opera-like quality singing of Opera Columbus’ Melisa Bonetti and Jennifer Cherest and the playing of the Symphony in Delibes’ “Viens, Mallika,…Dõme épais le jasmin” from Lakmé  that cemented the program as one for the ages.  Orrante’s delicate, feathery movement for the dancers perfectly complemented the angelic voices of Bonetti and Cherest resulting in a contrivance of beauty that caressed the senses.

After two more sections to music by Puccini and Mozart and some narration and shtick by Purdy, Orrante once again treated the audience to another bit of cleverness performed to Rossini’s “é lei: che gioja é questa!…Siete voi” from Cenerentola.  In the vignette, vocalists Bonetti, Cherest, Katherine Rohrer, Clay Hilley and Robert Kerr were paired with dancers Bethany Lee, Samantha Lewis, Courtney Muscroft, Andres Estevez, Jackson Prescott Sarver and Michael Sayre who acted in part as their dancing shadows. The singers enunciated each syllable of each word they sang in a syncopated manner while the dancers mimicked them and engaged in gestural and playful dancing.

Orrante has shown in his works for BalletMet that he has a talent for creating sophisticated, musically illustrative choreography that fits well on the company’s dancers and easily connects with audiences.

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda
Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

The program’s first act concluded with Liang’s choreography in Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 – Aria (Cantilena)” which told of a siren who seduces her prey through song.  Cherest, as the siren entranced dancer David Ward as a group of fourteen dancers swept through Liang’s bold and dramatic choreography.  The rousing dance concluded with Cherest appearing to pull a red scarf from Ward’s mouth as if pulling the life from his body as he collapsed to the floor.

Twisted’s second act continued the program’s entertaining and appealing mix of music, song and dance with eight more sections beginning with another Caniparoli choreographed ballet performed to Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes No. 4 Storm” from Peter Grimes.  The ballet, sans vocalists, featured a dozen BalletMet dancers along with lead couple, and new BalletMet power pairing, Ward and former Colorado Ballet soloist Caitlin Valentine-Ellis.  Ward, who seemingly was featured in just about every section, exuded a strong presence partnering the petite, technically adroit Valentine-Ellis.  The pair along with the rest of the dancers shone in Caniparoli’s engaging choreography.

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda
Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

Other memorable moments included:  the CSO along with the Columbus Symphony Chorus in Verdi’s “The Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore;  dancer Adrienne Benz partnered by four male dancers in a Cong choreographed ballet set to Bizet’s “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Carmen; and dancers Ward and Muscroft along with vocalists Bonetti and Hilley in Orrante’s rendition of Saint-Saens  “Mon couer s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson and Delilah, in which the leggy Muscroft en pointe in bourrée (small, quick, even steps) circled a scarfed Bonetti , unwrapping the scarf with each pass onto herself.

The sensational program concluded with Boito’s “Finale” from Act III from Mefistofoles. The Liang choreographed ballet included the entire triumphant cast of over 100 onstage dancing, singing and playing in a rousing spectacle ending which gold confetti raining down on them as the audience rose for a well-deserved standing ovation.

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda
Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

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