Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley

November 18, 2004

Jolly Pirates celebrate life aboard ship.
Photographs by Robert Schomier


Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose, CA

November 18–21, 2004

Reviewed by Mary Ellen Hunt


A balletic takeoff on a light, colorful operetta like Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance seems like it would perfectly suit the talents of a company like Ballet San Jose, whose dancers excel at character ballets. Unfortunately, choreographer Daryl Gray’s adaptation of this enormously popular tale lacks the original operetta’s sharp verbal satire and fails to replace it with any kind of visual wit or choreographic imagination.

With cheerful sets by Kenneth Keith and jaunty costumes created by Margaret Heaman and Emily Hoem, Pirates has the right look for a lighthearted romp but can’t seem to figure out if it’s an operetta with dancing or a ballet with singing. For this story about a dutiful young man who is accidentally apprenticed to incompetent pirates, Gray constructed the kind of choreography that would be acceptable for a company of singers who can’t dance.

With all the running, clapping, and floor slapping, many of the pirate dances look like they were created for a credible opera chorus or creative movement class. But these dancers are capable of much more.

The musical arrangements by Henry Aronson include roles for four singers in the guise of noisy audience members—sung in San Jose by the lively Carol Winston, Ann Noriel, Craig Gilmore, and Benito Galindo—who have the Herculean task of giving voice to all the major roles and choruses with only about a third of the lyrics at their disposal. Gray is obviously aware, however, that something in the storytelling is missing, since he often has the dancers act out exactly what is being sung. Imagine how the average guy on the street might mime “A pirate! Horror!” and you have the picture.

Alex Lapshin did his best to swash some buckles as the feckless king of the titular soft-hearted pirates. His ingrained classicism gave an eye-pleasing ease to the jumps and turns, particularly in his first-act solos. Company régisseur Raymond Rodriguez was appropriately droll as his nemesis, Major-General Stanley, while Maria Jacobs and Patricia Perez stood out for their percolating charm and breezy technique as the ringleaders among Stanley’s daughters. Romantic leads Alexandra Koltun and Maximo Califano energetically delivered their duets, which allowed them a few pretty moments if not actual tenderness or sweeping breadth of movement.

All in all, the good-natured cheese ball went over well with the audience, right through the company’s flourishing bows in character.

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