Ballet San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose
November 20, 2008
Reviewed by Rita Felciano
Photo by Robert Shomler.
Maximo Califano and
Ramon Moreno in Flemming
Flindt's restaging of
Bournonville's The Toreador.
In 1978 Flemming Flindt brought back a rethinking of Bournonville’s 1840 one-act The Toreador, which had disappeared from the Royal Danish Ballet in 1929. In 1990, and now again in 2008, what is today Ballet San Jose revived Flindt’s extended version. Flindt’s second-act additions leave much to be desired, but overall this is charming Bournonville-inspired entertainment.
Toreador was aided by the elegantly subdued design from Hans Christian Molbeck and a pleasingly amended score by Erling Bjerno (based on Edvard Helsted). As coached by Flindt and his wife Vivi Flindt, the ballet brought to life a humorous clash of cultures—British, Spanish and French—with a buoyant modesty and a dash of flash that evokes Danish ballet with verve and integrity.
The libretto is typical of Bournonville: Its characters are wide open to the world but find true happiness at home. In this case home happens to be Spain, but the values of kindness, generosity, and contentment could be Danish. The slender story revolves around Maria (Karen Gabay) and her Toreador fiancé Alonzo (Maykel Solas) and the misunderstandings that arise with the arrival of two Englishmen (Maximo Califano, Ramon Moreno), a French ballerina (Alexsandra Meijer), and her mother (Roni Mahler). The work is set in the courtyard of Maria’s innkeeper father José (Daniel Gwatkin) and ends with three happily committed couples.
Building on artistic director Dennis Nahat’s practice of instilling in-depth characterizations in his dancers, the Flindts were able to elicit performances in which mime and dance, sentiment and humor, Spanish dance and ballet, seamlessly flowed into each other. Toreador’s characters hummed with humanity, from the little kids who did their toe-heel-toe variation to the couple of strolling nuns and tourists who enriched the scenery. Throughout, the footwork was buoyant, fleet, and detailed; the ensemble work, whether in the Spanish or the more balletic passages, lively yet disciplined
Gabay’s Maria—she first danced the role in 1990—was a finely calibrated mix of febrile anxiety, hot-headed jealousy, and womanly yielding. Still a remarkable dancer, she remains one of San Jose’s shining stars. The handsome Cuban-trained Solas put his clean lines in the service of a dashing and yet solicitous Alonzo. The lovers’ perfectly timed quarrel, fought with castanets, had a textured dramatic arch to it. Mirai Noda and Preston Dugger brought a sunny spunkiness to Paquita and Pedro; their rapid-fire heelwork sounded like peals of laughter. Long-limbed Meijer’s airy arabesques and breathy port-de-bras evoked Bournonville’s La Sylphide.
Genuine humor is rare in ballet. Toreador has it. Califano as the lanky and bumbling Mr. Williams and Moreno as a wide-eyed dreamer Mr. Arthur played each other like a game of ping-pong. But they also invested these Mutt and Jeff Englishmen with a modicum of dignity and individuality, so that we laughed as much with as at them.