The next Program 2 of the Ballet de l’Opéra de Marigny is ambitious and diversified: three original ballets with three choreographers, a commissioned score, a rare interpretation of an avant-garde composition from the 20th century and a concert pianist. The trio of very different ballets offer few clues to the intense and exciting evening the company is creating.
“There’s no doubt about it,” says director Dave Hurlbert, “Program 2 is hard to categorize.” Consider:
* “Pierrot Lunaire”, a commedia d’ell arte clown struck by the moon, seen through the disruptive lens of 20th century composer Arnold Schoenberg
* “Querelle” by Jean Genet, a French sailor who is by turns a thief, a prostitute and a serial killer
*Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the 19th century composer who left his home in Marigny for the world stages and anticipated ragtime jazz
“’Programme 2′ doesn’t fit neatly under any kind of umbrella. I’d say overall it’s an adult night out. It’s not the confection that “Follies of 1915” were, but it is an extremely beautiful and thought-provoking program.
To open and close the evening, Hurlbert has chosen two dancers who are putting on works for the Ballet for the first time. Derwin May Jr., who has been dancing with the company since 2016, tackles the three-part “Gottschalk Suite” with pianist Katalin Lukacs. Two of the musical selections, “Pasquinade” and “Bamboula”, are rooted in old Creole melodies. Drawing inspiration from southern Italian folk dance, Gottschalk’s ‘Great Tarantella’ gained popularity as ‘Tarantella’, a mid-century ballet created by the co-founder and ballet master of New York City Ballet, George Balanchine.
Newcomer to the Marigny Opera Ballet, Rebecca Allen, Hurlbert entrusted “the very difficult challenge of capturing the essence of one of the monuments of avant-garde music of the 20th century – ‘Pierrot Lunaire, Opus 21′”. by Arnold Schoenberg. Allen, a New Orleans native whose dance career took her to Nashville in 2001, is now back home, pursuing graduate school at Tulane and exploring the intersection of visual arts and dance.
What makes “Pierrot Lunaire” so difficult that it is rarely performed? The score – and the ballet – are punctuated by short surrealist verses translated from Albert Giraud’s cycle of poems in German. Written for a chamber group and singer in sprechstimme mode, partly sung and partly spoken, the three seven-song sections chronicle Pierrot’s encounters with love, sex, religion, crime, violence, and ultimately , the death.
Season three dancer Joshua Bell leads the cast in the famed role played by Rudolph Nureyev in a performance that transcends dance, employing mime, acrobatics and a fluid emotional range. Renowned soprano Phyllis Treigle is on board to perform the signature sung/spoken dialogue, with the New Resonance Chamber Ensemble conducted by Francis Scully.
Is “Pierrot Lunaire” too over the top for New Orleans audiences? Hurlbert thinks not and therefore agrees with the reviewer who said “the first rule is don’t worry about sung/spoken lyrics” that there are no lyrics in the program or projections on the walls.
For the centerpiece of “Programme 2”, Hurlbert commissioned a bold new work from his frequent collaborator Byron Asher, based on the then outrageous 1947 novel “Querelle de Brest” by Jean Genet. Asher developed the score during a residency at the Barn Arts Collective in Tremont, ME this summer.
The choreographer “Querelle” Diogo de Lima is well known to the public of the Ballet de l’Opéra de Marigny. “He has choreographed a number of award-winning ballets for us over the years: ‘Salterelle’, ‘Wary Heat’, ‘Aguas de Dezembro’, among others,” says Hurlbert. For murderous sailor Charles Querelle, Hurlbert and de Lima enlisted Edward Spots, known for his leaps and bounds in eight previous productions.
Always daring and controversial, Jean Genet’s novels and plays typically focus on outcasts: drug dealers, pimps, thieves, murderers, sexual deviants and others who are somehow alienated from mainstream society. Sailors, men alone at sea with other men for long periods of time, are often seen as metaphors for homosexuality. Interestingly, Genet’s work includes an unfinished ballet “Adame Miroir”, which also has a sailor as its protagonist.
Although there is no nudity at Querelle, Hurlbert advises that the content is not suitable for those under the age of 18.
While the three ballets have been bouncing around in Hurlbert’s brain for a year or more, he still wonders about a common thread between them. “Maybe it’s something as simple as perfume. With ‘Gottschalk Suite’, we rediscover the almost lost scent of Place Marigny and Congo in 1840. ‘Querelle’ evokes the smell of the sea, the mysterious world of sailors in a small French port town. And ‘Pierrot’! The final dance of this ballet is set to the surrealist poem: “O ancient perfume of distant days…”. It is perhaps the rarest perfume of all for the evening: the faint memories of the 18th century, the world of commedia dell’arte and the birth of ballet.
Members of the Marigny Opera Ballet Company include Kellis McSparrin-Oldenburg, Gretchen Erickson, Lauren Guynes, Edward Spots, Derwin May Jr., Donovan Davis, Lauren Ashlee Messina, Aaron Wiggins, Meredith Pennison and Arden McKee (apprentice). Jarina Carvalho Taylor is the company’s ballet master; McSparrin-Oldenburg serves as rehearsal director in addition to dance and choreography assignments. The scenography is by Steve Schepker, with the lighting by Lydia Kolda. The costumes are by Laura Sirkin-Brown.
Program 2 performances are scheduled at the Opéra Marigny, 725 rue Saint-Ferdinand, on Thursday 17 and Sunday 20 January at 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday January 18-19 at 8 p.m. Tickets $45/$32 (students and seniors) are available at http://bit.ly/2s5RJ1U at the door. Additional information: www.marignyoperaballet.org