Review: Martha Clarke's CHERI Dances to Colette's Romance
Martha Clarke's choreography supplies the raw emotions and Tina Howe's text gives them context in Chéri, an entrancing dance/theatre piece based on Colette's 1920 novella of passion and romance between a young man and an older woman.
In the only speaking role, Amy Irving, as Chéri's mother, Charlotte, gives a warm and stately performance, telling of the six-year relationship that began when her son was 19 and her best friend, Léa de Lonval, was 43. ("Was he my gift to her? Or did she take him from me? Who knows?)
In her program notes, Howe quotes Colette's advice to writers as, "No narration, for heaven's sake! Just brush strokes and splashes of color, and there is no need for a conclusion... Liberate yourself!"
Hence, her thin narrative only hints at how Charlotte got Chéri to marry a wealthy, virginal 18-year-old and how the boy, unsatisfied with his bride, grew jealous to hear of Léa's new romance. Then came the Great War, which killed millions and left survivors like Chéri changed men,
But between Irving's four monologues come the richer textures of the story, told through the rapturous dancing of ballet stars Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri, accompanied by pianist Sarah Rothenberg playing selections primarily by Ravel, Debussy, Mompou and Poulenc.
In set and costume designer David Zinn's sparsely furnished Parisian flat, their opening scene displays an idyllic picture of their romance; sensual lovemaking, playful flirtations and soulful glances, while elegantly, if not always fully, garbed in a nightgown and pajamas. Hazily lit by Christopher Akerlind, it's not until later solo dances that we're allowed glimpses at the devastated loneliness in Léa's face as she faces the realities of aging and Chéri's cocky youthfulness dissolving into post-war madness.
While the elements of drama and dance are beautifully done individually, Clarke doesn't quite merge the strengths of the two art forms without the seams showing, making Charlotte's appearances seem more as separate interludes than as an essential element. But at a scant hour and five minutes, the lovely and sensual chamber piece supplies sufficient erotic tingles and tragic lows to continually engage.