Beauty Too Fleeting
Milwaukee Ballet’s La Boheme
The craziness of four-day runs and years between revivals of a great effort like this actually mirrors the romantic fixation at the heart of this work: beauty is fleeting; its transcendent power, once tasted, is ripped from our hands. The opera’s actual story is slight and slightly mystifying. (Please, won’t someone call a doctor?!) The characters are stereotypes waiting for performers to fill them in with whatever individuality they can. We’re given moments that are emblematic of key experiences—love at first sight, misunderstandings, a loved one dying—great dance material, in other words. But in the end, what’s moving isn’t Mimi’s death; it’s the breathtaking beauty of the final stage composition and the memory of the performances that led to it. Puccini’s music signals high melodrama – look, all that is lovely must perish! But the true sorrow lies in the fact that the curtain is falling, the performance is over. The rest is bliss.
Much of the credit for this undeniable first night triumph goes to Andrews Sill, Milwaukee Ballet’s music director and orchestra conductor since 2003, and now also interim music director for the New York City Ballet. Sill fashioned a sublime score from Puccini’s opera, adapting as necessary and also expanding it with additional Puccini material to create an entirely new and valuable scene midway through. Dancers need different accompaniment than singers in terms of tempo and heft. On opening night, the performance of the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra under Sill’s baton was sensational.
breathtaking lighting, as important to this production as the music, perfectly
served Rick Graham’s massive set – a conceptual collaboration with Pink who
wove the movement of scenery into the dance in touching ways. Together,
they gave us a deep blue, blues-y view of the Latin Quarter through a diagonal
piece of the Eiffel Tower, a poor part of Paris without glamour yet darkly
gorgeous. The 1950s period costumes by Paul Daigle, some of which came
from local vintage clothing stores, could not have been wittier or lovelier.
La Boheme was conceived and created for its leading dancers: David Hovhannisyan (Rodolfo), Luz San Miguel ( Mimi), welcome newcomer Tim O’Donnell (Marcello), Annia Hildalgo (Musetta), Marc Petrocci (Colline) and Ryan Martin (Schaunard), with featured roles for several others, most notably Justin Genna (Viscount). The wonderful Alexandre Ferreira and Nicole Teague alternated as Rodolfo and Mimi. Every dancer excelled in the basic choreographic style, which moves seamlessly between naturalism and balletic virtuosity, always making the characters’ inner lives clear and credible. Almost the entire show is performed by this handful of capable, mature artists, and the lion’s share is given to Hovhannisyan, San Miguel and O’Donnell (just arrived from his native Australia and looking very much like he belongs here). They are spellbinding.
In contrast, the second act street and café scenes have more than 40 people on stage. Once again, Pink demonstrated his genius with crowd scenes. Every character has an interesting life in the scene. The eye never tires of racing from dancer to dancer to try to take it all in. Every dancer gets a few moments in the limelight. When something really counts, Pink unfailingly takes your attention there like a magician’s sleight of hand.
Of special note was the endearing lesbian couple danced by Rachel Malehorn and Courtney Kramer, their relationship equal to any in this bohemian milieu. To my delight, the gifted accordion player Stas Venglevski took center stage to play the opening verse of “Musetta’s Waltz.” I loved that—and I loved the fact that Hidalgo gave him the tempo.