Grand Rapids Ballet

March 18, 2005

Nicholas Schultz as the Artist and Dawnell Dryja as La Goulue in the foreground; Can-Can Woman, Mindy Mosolygo in the shoulder sit;
and Gaiane Akopian and Akop Akopian in the background as Jane Avril and the Manager, respectively.

Photo by Rob Schumaker, Terzes Photography

Grand Rapids Ballet
DeVos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids, MI

March 18–20, 2005

Reviewed by Kate O’Neill


Surprise! Gordon Peirce Schmidt’s Can-Can, set in Paris’ Moulin Rouge nightclub, opened not with a bevy of high-kicking dancers in ruffled skirts but with a solitary figure swathed in silks floating down from the flies. The scene portrayed the artistry of Loie Fuller, a pioneer in the use of lighting to enhance dance—and one of the many artists who frequented the Moulin Rouge in the late 19th century.

Laura McQueen as Fuller emerged from a scroll of fabric hung high above the stage and gently descended as she opened her winglike swaths of silk. She skimmed the stage with a few gliding steps before ascending again into the flies. It was a poetic moment, although quite detached from the rest of the ballet. Yes, the Can-Can girls arrived soon afterward with the expected high kicks, splits, and flouncing derrieres.

Artistic director Schmidt has peopled his ballet with Moulin Rouge dancers made famous by painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, like the suave Jane Avril and the bouncy La Goulue, who, in the ballet, become rivals for the affection of a young artist. The contrived libretto resembles a 19th-century operetta but offers ample opportunity for dazzling dancing and acting. Gaiane Akopian (Avril), Akop Akopian (the Manager), Dawnell Dryja (La Goulue), Nicholas Schultz (the Artist), and Attila Mosolygo (the M.C.) spun through bravura leaps and breathtaking lifts, including a moment when Akop Akopian whirled across the stage bearing his partner aloft.

Schmidt chose familiar selections from Offenbach’s music to accompany these lively night club scenes; later he turned to the pensive melodies of Debussy as first the Artist, then Avril, reflected on their conflicting desires. Surprisingly, the Artist’s lustful postures, with splayed hands and arched back, recalled Afternoon of a Faun. A hint of artistic revolutions to come in the 20th century?

But such hints aside, Can-Can overflowed with stunning dancing, with spirited support from the Grand Rapids Symphony. Although the ballet failed to capture the decadence evoked by Toulouse-Lautrec, its gaiety and color were irresistible.

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