BWW Review: North American Premiere of Bintley's TEMPEST Takes the Wortham by Storm
The Houston Ballet takes Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST into the world of dance with energy and verve, bringing one of the most theatrical of the Bard's plays to life in a lavish production by choreographer David Bintley. No expense was spared; no stop un-pulled in this story of love, revenge, magic, and complicated skullduggery that this play provides in abundance. Or maybe overabundance.
The plot is thick, and gets thicker, beginning with a shipwreck that maroons its occupants on a strange and foreign shore.
Prospero, the former duke of Milan, deposed by his brother, Antonio, with the aid of the King of Naples, Alonso, and his brother Sebastian, has been left on the island with his infant daughter, Miranda, now a girl of 15. Prospero is a dabbler in the occult, and with nothing much to do, has become a magician par excellence.
Other inhabitants of the island include the sprite Ariel, the same sort of fast-moving spirit as "Puck" in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, and Calaban, a misshapen and misunderstood monster.
As happenstance would have it, Antonio, Sebastian, Alonso and Alonso's son, Ferdinand, are on the ship when Ariel causes a storm to toss them all into the sea, along with court jester Trincolo and Stephano, the butler. They all land on the island, but Ferdinand is separated from the others, and his father thinks he is dead.
As Ferdinand lies picturesquely on the beach, Miranda, who has never seen a man other than her father, discovers him and is smitten. Ferdinand is likewise, and after a series of tests, Prospero accepts him as his son-in-law. There is a celebration, a ship arrives, and all are rescued, leaving Calaban and Ariel to their island.
These are the bare bones of the story, but there's a lot going on. And there's a lot to like.
Beginning with sets by the National Theatre's Rae Smith, the audience is immediately drawn to a sea of blue upon which a golden ship is suspended. As the performance begins, the sailors cavort, unaware that a great storm is bearing down. The effects are impressive, and soon passengers are flung into the sea. We see Fernando (Connor Walsh) as he descends into the deep, struggling for the surface, being pulled down by sea creatures, swimming away from their grasp. The wire work here is beautifully realized, and the audience is relieved to find him on a sunlit shore, exhausted but alive.
Miranda (Karina Gonzalez) finds him, and as he wakes, their attraction for each other is evident.
Calaban's (Brian Waldrep) entrance, disguised as a hermit crab, is ingenious, and Waltrep's wild physicality is quite effective throughout the ballet. He brings passion and sexuality to the rather tepid romance between Ferdinand and Miranda.
Prospero (Ian Cassady) is properly imperious, but much of his choreography is limited to pointing menacingly with his stick and ordering everyone about. There is no real sense of personhood.
As more and more characters appear, most unaccounted for, the plot muddies, and one begins to think it's being stretched too far.
There is a prolonged comic scene featuring jester Trincolo and the butler Stephano, but it seems superfluous.
Some of the best dancing comes in the divertissment, when Ferdinand and Miranda are being celebrated as a couple. Again, a rather bewildering array of dancers are featured, beginning with an ensemble of what appear to be Neapolitans, and progressing through a number of mythical characters including Neptune (Chun Wai Chan) and the Greek goddess Ceres (Jessica Collado). Chan sparkles in some of the best dancing of the evening, with a dizzying series of pirouettes, and Collado does some exquisite work en pointe.
But then things get crowded, as more and more dancers take their turn, including one goddess who arrives, somewhat improbably, flown down on a bejeweled peacock that lands, flat-footed, with rather a thud. It's pretty but distracting, especially as it sidles off stage right without further ado.
As I said, there is much to like, including the portrayal of Ferdinand and Miranda as the young lovers. The choreography doesn't give them enough to do, but they very effectively use what they have. Connor Walsh was born to play this role; it fits him like a glove, and Gonzalez is sweetness itself as the young Miranda.
Taken all in all, THE TEMPEST is delightful spectacle, and a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Performances take place at the Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. Tickets start at $25. Call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. Also available at the Houston Ballet Box Office at Wortham Theater Center downtown at 501 Texas at Smith Street, Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.