Wonder and Awe. In Carnival of the Animals... "A librarian reveals an inner fantasy when she transforms from a kangaroo into a glorious mermaid, and Oliver's great aunt recalls her dancing days as a glamorous swan. It's a great work that the entire family can enjoy," said Angelini.
I can't remember the last time I attended the ballet and was met with nothing but whimsy, humor and fantasy. Certainly there have been presentations that have included the three aforementioned characteristics, but blended in with those have always been danger, sorrow, regret and others. The "moral of the tale" stuff. Never have I seen a ballet that was a pure "celebration of happiness," as Tulsa Ballet's Marcello Angelini, artistic director, asserts this weekend's Carnival is.
Carnival, which opens Friday, March 27 in the Chapman Music Hall of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St., includes three fantastical ballets: Elite Syncopation, choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan; Carnival of the Animals, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon; and Amade, a world premiere choreographed especially for Tulsa Ballet by up-and-comer Massimiliano Volpini.
"Elite Syncopation has been one of my all-time favorite works for decades," said Angelini. "I used to watch it performed by the Royal Ballet in England when I lived there. Then I traveled as far as San Francisco to see it again once I moved to the U.S."
Set to music of the same name by Scott Joplin, Elite Syncopation takes place in what looks like a degraded dance hall on a questionable side of town, said Angelini, and the dancers, dressed in costumes that somewhat resemble circus performers' get-ups, compete for the audience's attention.
The dance incorporates burlesque and virtuoso routines with classical movements for a stunningly graceful piece of work that is made more divine by the 12-piece band that plays the ragtime-inspired score onstage, in full costume, throughout the ballet.
Carnival of the Animals, choreographed by a young man who Angelini said, despite his age, ranks among the top dance makers of our time and has been called the successor to George Balanchine, was written by actor John Lithgow and is set to the famous 1886 score of the same name by Camille Saint-Saens.
Lithgow wrote the libretto as a narrative arc to Saint-Saens' piece of music. At its 2003 premiere at the New York City Ballet, Lithgow narrated and even danced.
"In the story, Oliver Pendleton Percy III, a young child, spends the night in the American Museum of Natural History," explained Angelini. "As he sleeps, the animals invade his dreams, taking the form of animals from him life. His schoolmaster becomes a lion, his classmates grow rats' tails, their parents squawking chickens.
"A librarian reveals an inner fantasy when she transforms from a kangaroo into a glorious mermaid, and Oliver's great aunt recalls her dancing days as a glamorous swan.
"It's a great work that the entire family can enjoy."
Finally, Volpini, an Italian choreographer from La Scala in Milan, presents a world premiere titled Amade. Volpini has created two works for the New York City Ballet's Diamond Project, which commissions new works every year, and other works in Italy, Angelini said.
"His work is aesthetically pleasing and sophisticated, almost a visualization of the music by Amadeus Mozart, whose score accompanies the ballet (designed for TB)," said Angelini.
("Amade" is the word Mozart used to sign his letters in Italian.)
"I started watching Volpini's growth as a choreographer a couple of years ago and felt he was someone I would eventually invite here to Tulsa," Angelini continued. "Then I saw, on video, the world premiere he did for New York City Ballet two years ago and loved it. I invited him to create a work for us right away.
"His style is very clean, almost geometrical in the way he moves the human body, underscoring the difficulty of the choreography and understanding the complexity of its musicality."
While the work presented in Carnival is unlike any other produced by TB this season -- or any recent season, for that matter -- Angelini said it's all in line with the ballet's mission of presenting "the best works by the best choreographers of the past and present."
"It's also in line with our mission of creating new works as a means of fostering the growth of the art form and the growth of the dance makers themselves and of ultimately exporting them all over the country and the world," Angelini said. "It's worth noting that the ballets created in Tulsa for the Tulsa Ballet will be performed, just this year, by Louisville Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, The National Ballet of Turkey in Ankara and the Essen Ballet in Germany, and they were performed, by Tulsa Ballet, in Seoul, South Korea.
"We are sending a strong message that, not only are the arts thriving in Oklahoma, but also that Tulsa is a major contributor to the well-being of dance."
Message received, Marcello, loud and clear.
Tulsa Ballet presents Carnival this Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $22-70, available at www.tulsapac.com.
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