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April 23–May 1, 2010
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Kudelka's The Man In Black. Photo by Catherine Proctor, courtesy BalletMet.
Three kings of American music got the royal treatment in BalletMet’s season-ending program “American Legends.”
The music of Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, and Sammy Davis, Jr. provided the soundtrack to a program of exquisite choreography and equally admirable dancing.
Maurice Hines’ Wonderful, set to an array of Wonder’s hits, is a jazz ballet loaded with energy and visual fireworks. BalletMet's dancers soared in lifts and leaps and rattled off a slew of multiple pirouettes.
In an all-female scene early in the ballet, to Wonder’s “Superstition,” seven tutu-clad dancers on pointe strutted, high-kicked, and turned on their feminine allure to drive their male counterparts wild. The men followed with a swaggering dance to Wonder’s 1970 hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” They pumped their arms, gyrated their hips, and darted and leapt about with agile determination.
At times Wonderful bordered on the showiness of a pairs figure skating routine. Hines’ choreography, long on dancer tricks, often lacked substance in the transitions between them. Overall, though, the infectious feel-good ballet proved a winner.
Surprisingly simple in its approach and ingenious in its outcome, James Kudelka’s The Man In Black was the hit of the program and one of the finest works I've seen this season.
The quiet work, set mostly to cover tunes sung by Cash (such as Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" and Nine Inch Nails’ "Hurt"), utilized a movement language structured like that of country line dancing, only taken to much more intricate and poetic ends by Kudelka.
Dancers Olivia Clark, Jimmy Orrante, Jackson Sarver, and David Tlaiye, in Western attire and hands held, moved like a train, stamping their feet and shuffling along to The Beatles' “In My Life” as expressions of desolation washed over their faces. In five other smartly crafted and marvelously danced vignettes, Kudelka tied his choreography to the emotions expressed in Cash’s music. The late singer’s gravelly voice, with its haunting heartbeat, drove each of the soulful dance sections.
“American Legends” closed with a Broadway-esque bang in Darrell Grand Moultrie's Simply Sammy. An epic tribute that spanned the breadth of Sammy Davis Jr.'s singing career, the work blended ballroom dance elegance with the “boom-crash-pow” movement style of 1950s and ’60s Hollywood jazz routines. Of the ballet’s many memorable dancers, a few stood out. Courtney Muscroft offered a slinky, sexy, and slightly demented solo as a crazed showgirl dancing to Davis’s rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Adam Hundt, as a humorously perturbed character, à la Jack McFarland from the TV show Will & Grace, performed to the song “Candy Man.” Also entertaining was a feisty call-and-response duet to “The Lady Is a Tramp” by Adrienne Benz and brilliant guest tapper Marshall L. Davis Jr.