American Repertory Ballet Makes A Splash With Gerald Arpino's SEA SHADOW To Be Performed At McCarter Theatre
Since the earliest days of civilization, legends abound of mythical sea creatures who lure handsome young men to the lower depths of the sea. One such story is of Ondine, which tells of a young man on a beach enamored with a beautiful shadow from the sea. This story has sparked the imaginations of composers from Dvorak's operatic masterpiece "Rusalka" to compositions by Ravel and Debussy, and a critically acclaimed play by the French dramatist Jean Giraudoux. This legend was popularized in Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid." and in the popular Disney animated film by the same name.
It also served as the inspiration for Joffrey Ballet's co-founder Gerald Arpino's lyrical pas de deux "Sea Shadow" (1962), which dance critic Walter Terry called "one of the most beautiful duets in ballet." On April 20, at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton AmericanRepertory Ballet will perform Arpino's "Sea Shadow" as part of its mixed repertory program "Generations: Influences from the Modern Age."
An ARB company premiere, "Sea Shadow," is performed by two casts: Anna Wilkes-Davis and her husband, Journy Wilkes Davis; and Aldeir Monteiro and Nanako Yamamoto. Earlier this season, the company performed the piece at Two River Theater in Red Bank and at the Kaye Playhouse in New York City.
"The biggest challenge of the piece is definitely the floor work of the beginning solo," explains Monteiro. "All of the shoulder stands and back bends are very difficult, as well as most of the lifts."
According to Journy Wilkes-Davis, the back roll over to a chin stand took a lot of time to perfect. "I also had to increase my upper body training since there is a considerable amount of lifting in the pas de deux."
The piece was re-staged by two former members of the Joffrey Ballet - Trinette Singleton and ARB Artistic Director Douglas Martin, who had each appeared in "Sea Shadow" during the course of their careers: Singleton in 1969, and Martin in 1989.
"It was an incredible experience learning from two generations that had previously performed this pas de deux. Not only did they provide invaluable insight to the choreography and the motivations of the dance, but hearing their wonderful histories with the piece made it even more special," acknowledges Journy Wilkes-Davis.
To prepare for the role, both women said they spent a lot of time listening to the music - the second movement of Ravel's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. "We were told that once we start hearing the music, the piece will make sense to fit all the choreography," says Yamato. "It was challenging for a while but when I got to the point that I could sing the music all the way through, it made sense."
The dancers agree the meaning of the piece is best left to the audience's own interpretation. But for Monteiro, who grew up in a part of the world best known for its beaches, Rio de Janeiro, the setting has special meaning.
"I grew up on the beach and I would often spend night staring at the moon, and sometimes would fall asleep in the sand. So when I'm performing I think back to my teenage-self asleep on the beach dreaming of this beautiful water goddess that takes me out for a moonlight swim."
Who is she? Ms. Wilkes-Davis interprets her role as a sea spirit who comes out in the moonlight to explore the beach. "This particular night I see something unusual and I'm curious to see it up close. After I wake him up we do a playful running section that I pretend is a game of tag and he catches me and does the first lift of the pas. In that moment, I'm in awe because I live in the water and only sometimes come on land but I've never been up in the sky and after that it turns into more of a love pas."
With its dreamy music, simple setting and dimly lit, Arpino's "Sea Shadow" magical and sensual duet is deceptively complex. "The men need incredible strength and stamina, and the women need a sensual quality of movement and a lot of trust in their partners," adds Ms. Wilkes-Davis.
American Repertory Ballet's revival of "Sea Shadow" is part of the Joffrey/Arpino Celebration marking the 10th anniversary of Gerald Arpino's passing and the 30th anniversary of Robert Joffrey's passing.
Dance writer Mark Karppel calls the piece "a natural melding of ballet and contemporary dance - creating an atmosphere of quiet tension." The work hasn't been seen in New York since the Joffrey Ballet was based in New York City.
The program for "Generations: Influences of the Modern Age" at McCarter TheatreCenter on Friday, April 20 at 8 p.m., also features José Limón "There is a Time", and Douglas Martin's "Rite of Spring." Tickets range from $50-$20. To charge by phone call (609) 258-2787; visit online at www.mccarter.org; or in person at the McCarter Theatre Ticket Office, 91 University Place in Princeton.