Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Dramatic Ballet Anniversary

Francis Patrelle's company Dances Patrelle celebrated its 20th anniversary season this weekend at the Kaye Playhouse.

I had Mr. Patrelle as a regular teacher during my two years at Ballet Academy East, and his classes were always a nice blend of musicality and dance-y combinations. He placed a lot of emphasis on the upper body and use of epaulement as compared to the other, more Balanchine-styled teachers. I got to dance for him in his company's "The Yorkville Nutcracker" both of those years, as well - also held at the Kaye.

This afternoon I was happy to squeeze time to see his new ballet "Murder at the Masque: The Casebook of Edgar Allen Poe." Patrelle is known for "dramatic dance" and he seems to have a knack for telling a story through movement. In this work, several couples dance at a masquerade party only to find that their host has been brutally attacked - with a clock - and killed. Though it seems advertised as a great mystery (see the Times review here) there's lots of curious movement but not much "whodunit" here. We find quickly it was Heather Hawk's character who apparently commit the crime. She dances a passionate, powerful pas de deux with her dead victim before she leaves the party.

Rita B. Watson's ballroom gown costumes are elegant, and Gillian Bradshaw-Smith's simple backdrop sets work well to carry on the plot. Justin Allen's story is engaging but slightly muddled in its telling...why Poe? How do they know Heather (her character's name is Lenore Smith, according to the program) is the killer? Maybe I missed something being lost in Patrick Soluri's gorgeously haunting music, but parts of the narrative were unclear.

Still, the dancers took to their characters and to Patrelle's choreography well. Many of them I've been in the studio with before and it's nice to see them in these roles. Even with masks blocking the women's faces for much of the piece, they each have a unique sensibility about them. And the chorus of kids who danced as the eery "les cloches" and "les gobelins" looked very professional. Students from BAE, Ailey, ABT, Joffrey, Ballet Hispanico, Manhattan Youth Ballet, and the 92Y joined together in a well-patterned dance dressed as gauzy ghost-like creatures. Definitely a strong addition!

Patrelle's program also included the revival of his 1986 ballet "Come Rain/Come Shine" set to music by the wonderful Judy Garland and featuring six dancers from ABT. Unfortunately I had to run out to make it to yoga in time (haha) and had to miss this one. Reports, anyone?

It's nice to see his company doing well on such a milestone anniversary. Here's to the next 20 years, Mr. Patrelle.

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