Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
San Jose, California
March 25, 2004
Reviewed by Mary Ellen Hunt
Romantic. Intriguing. How else to describe the life of Denmark’s free-spirited Karen Blixen—better known under her nom de plume, Isak Dinesen? Unfortunately, in the expanded premiere of Out of Africa, or Lucifer’s Daughter (originally created in 1992), choreographer Flemming Flindt reduces her story to frustratingly disconnected episodes of melodrama and nuttiness, even as it attempts to portray her as a tormented genius Everywoman.
Obvious and banal, the choreography barely scratches at the surface of emotion, which is unusual for Flindt, who has produced far more expressive works in his illustrious career. Here, key passages rely almost entirely on the dancers’ skill to convey any kind of context. A supposedly passionate duet for The Woman and The Lover was step-conscious and lacking in exhilaration despite the dancers’ best efforts.
The San Jose State University Chorale lent the weight of numbers to the production, opening the evening with a procession down the aisles carrying glowing globes and shrouded in dark robes like Jedi extras escaped from Attack of the Clones. Most of the ballet, however, played out to a recorded pastiche of Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s darkly romantic music, with the chorus returning at odd moments in painfully abrupt transitions.
The dancers gave it their all. As The Woman, Alexsandra Meijer summoned the beauty of her classical technique to bring logic to inorganic movement phrases. A high point was a quartet for Meijer, James Strong as her father, Stephane Dalle as her philandering husband, and Alex Lapshin as her lover. The rest of the roles—including a Mother (Dalia Rawson), Sisters (Karen Gabay and Maria Jacobs), Mistress (Sayaka Tai), Lucifer (Hao Bo), and a Centaur (Ramon Moreno)—though performed with gusto, remained a mystifying mishmash of forgettable characters.
What’s not forgettable is that Flindt cast the only two African American dancers—the very capable Tiffany Glenn and Willie Anderson—as the Servants, and then in a later dream sequence, as a Vegas-style African dance act. One wonders if he ever considered whether audiences—or the dancers—would find that decision offensive.
Then again, one wonders what Flindt was thinking in general.
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