BWW Review: HARLEQUINADE at the American Ballet Theatre
ABT's choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, has pulled out all the stops for his
earnest revival of Petipa's oft-forgotten 1900 hit, Harlequinade, now in performance
at The Met Opera. Based off of the commedia dell'arte tradition, it should be the
best of two worlds, combining both the irreverent delights of Commedia and the
bravado of Petipa's choreography. Harlequinade is colorful, whimsical and, at a run
time of less than two hours, including an intermission, doesn't overstay its welcome. Though, despite these virtues, it is a mostly academic endeavor.
The two-act ballet follows the exploits of Harlequin as he tries to romance
Columbine. Columbine is imprisoned by her father but thanks to some magic from
The Good Fairy, is released. The two go on to get married in spectacular fashion.
Ballet plots are rarely noted for their dramaturgical cohesion or depth. Dance,
despite its virtues, is a very inefficient way to tell a story wholesale. Normally this
doesn't matter much because the audience either knows the plot already and can
intuit adaptation (Romeo and Juliette) or, what the work lacks in moral depth it
makes up for in athleticism (Le Corsaire). Much of Harlequinade is comically mimed.
A sizeable chunk of the runtime is taken up by violent gesticulating about conflicts
that will soon be resolved.
The work has a few fabulous vignettes, which Ratmansky has staged with
sensitivity and care. Carlos Gonzalez, rather than the troublesome trickster, has
more of an "aw, shucks" charm in the title role. This softness in characterization
gives him superb chemistry with Columbine, but he lacks swagger when on his own.
Sarah Lane and Devon Teuscher leave no question about who is truly in control of
the plot. Harlequin might be in love, but Columbine and Pierette are going to make it
happen. As Columbine, Lane is a vision of calm dignity and enthusiasm. Not weighed
down by the intentions of the plot or dramaturgy, Teuscher's Pierette is an
ambassador for an evening of virtuosic ballet. With her, we can see what might have
been if the choreographic intention was more homage than historic restoration.
Other production elements are superb. Conductor Charles Barker masterfully
handles Drigo's musical composition. Sets and costumes by Robert Perdziola are
nearly worth the cost of admission on their own. The costumes dazzle with gowns
that look like they're from an old New Yorker cover, and the vibrant Commedia characters. Lighting by Brad Fields is similarly strong, keeping the mood not too
self-important. A ballet need not be tragic to be worth investigating. The problem is
so many points of entry for audience appreciation are locked into signifiers known
to the casual viewer in 1900, not 2019. Without an iconic plot, memorable music, or
dazzling dance, the piece attempts to make itself engaging by charm alone.