Related: Ensemble for the Romantic Century

A previous commitment prevented me from reviewing the Ensemble for the Romantic Century's (ERC) Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart at the Brooklyn Academy of Music until now. Unfortunately, the production has closed but the memory lingers.

In ERC's own words, the company was created to introduce an innovative and novel approach to chamber music, one that "interweaves dramatic scripts based on letters, memoirs, diaries and other literature with music, reinforcing the music's historical context through its connections with history, politics, philosophy, and the other arts." Would some university take note of that!

None But the Lonely Heart centers on the relationship between the great Russian composer, Tchaikovsky and his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck. Theirs was an unusual relationship--they never met. Their only connection was through correspondence, which allowed them the opportunity to express their deepest thoughts to each other. There could be an outpouring of one's soul, but never a meeting or lunch, dinner or a drink. Von Meck supported Tchaikovsky for many years until, due to financial straits, she had to withdraw her patronage. Even though Tchaikovsky was a well-established composer by this time, the break between the two caused each immense emotional pain.

What makes the production so interesting is the interweaving of dialogue, songs, chamber music and dance. Although there were times when I thought the music impeded the flow of dialogue, it also served as a heightened metaphor to remind us that there are some things that can't be said in words. Tchaikovsky was living as a closeted gay man in czarist Russia, something he never admitted to von Meck, even if she had her own suspicions. Perhaps that is why Tchaikovsky's music has always been so popular; it can expresses our deepest sorrows and anguish without us saying a word.

If the evening didn't always coalesce as a dramatic piece, it nonetheless provided outstanding performances by Simon Fortin and Ariel Bock as Tchaikovsky and von Meck. The relationship of need and despair was firmly established by the actors, who did not overreach for effects. Daniel Mantei of American Ballet Theatre choreographed and performed the role of what I suppose were the different men in Tchaikovsky's life. Although his appearances were brief, his grace and dignity signified a life anchor that always eluded Tchaikovsky. I wonder what Tchaikovsky would say if he were to come back to the 21st century to witness gay marriage?

This is the first time I have seen one of ERC's production. I look forward to seeing more. One can't expect a higher compliment.

Photograph: Talya Chalef

Related Links
BWW Interviews: Daniel Mantei - None But the Lonely HeartBWW Interviews: Daniel Mantei - None But the Lonely Heart
by Barnett Serchuk - March 03, 2014

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Barnett Serchuk Editor-in-Chief of Broadwayworld Dance.

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