Ballet Florida

March 22, 2002

Ballet Florida dancers Gary Lennington and Wendy Laraghy in Thierry Malandain’s version of The Stone Flower.
Steven Caras, courtesy Ballet Florida

Ballet Florida

Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
West Palm Beach, Florida

March 22?23, 2002

Reviewed by Guillermo Perez

A sleek look and straight-on drive gave The Stone Flower?arguably, Ballet Florida’s most ambitious venture to date?a futuristic edginess, making it easy to forget this full-length ballet comes with a sober pedigree. Choreographed for the West Palm Beach company by Thierry Malandain, artistic director of Ballet Biarritz, the trans-Atlantic collaboration premiered at France’s Biarritz Festival last year and in its American debut showed how Sergei Prokofiev’s last ballet score could be vigorously reinterpreted.

When Prokofiev received this Bolshoi commission in 1948, his relationship with Soviet authorities was strained and his health was failing. A scenario from tales compiled by Pavel Bazhov, an officially favored author, helped validate the project. Demands from choreographer Leonid Lavrovsky and Bolshoi directors, however, sent work on the music?with its rich orchestrations infused by folk flavors from the Ural Mountains?down a rocky road. Dance rehearsals did not start until 1953, just four days before Stalin and the composer died. The premiere was delayed until the following year.

Although Yuri Grigorovich restaged this ballet for the Kirov in 1957, Malandain has propelled it into a contemporary orbit. Condensed into two acts, the story still features Danilo, a stone carver whose longing for artistic perfection takes him away from his beloved Katerina to the underground realm of the Queen of the Mountain. Wonders below earth contrast with conflict above as a village celebration gets spoiled by Severian, a lecherous foreman, who ravishes Katerina. Justice triumphs when the Queen, disguised as a gypsy, brings down the villain. A blithe spirit guides Katerina to Danilo, and the lovers reunite, with the Queen’s blessing but upon the condition that subterranean marvels vanish from their memory.

It’s all fantasy and melodrama?just as one might expect from traditional ballet stories. Yet unorthodox movement and scenic design put a fresh bloom on The Stone Flower. Grays and malachite green lent an austere beauty to Jorge Gallardo’s costumes, just hinting at village dress and with tutus for the Queen’s minions; his set, both elegant and economic, included a looming, honeycombed rock wall (giving off metallic flashes for the dazzle of the underworld) and moveable, variegated blocks for dancers to pop out of and interact on. Abstraction of local color also marked Malandain’s choreography. Phrases took on a distinctive edge with mechanical locomotion and acute angles. Graced with folk elements, this looked especially sharp on the ensembles of villagers. Equally well-served, Gary Lenington balanced brooding and acrobatics as Danilo; Wendy Laraghy’s Katerina was pliant in dreaminess and determination. Less effectively conceived, the Queen (Tina Martin) came off as rather mundane, and Severian (Tracy Mozingo) represented evil in strokes too clumsily broad. To the most luscious musical passages, classical sweeps closed the first act in the Queen’s domain, as frisky pointe work contrasted with the men’s somnambulant advances (hypnotized by perfect beauty?). But the finale’s above-ground festivity looked more like a cartoon than a gilded fairy-tale send-off.