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American Ballet Theatre: Lady of the Camellias 2011
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American Ballet Theatre: Lady of the Camellias 2011

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American Ballet Theatre

Lady of the Camellias 2011
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susan Morgan, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 8, 2011

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins

Lady of the Camellias, a ballet by John Neumeier based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils,(1978): Choreography and lighting concept by John Neumeier, Staged by Kevin Haigen and Victor Hughes, Music by Frederic Chopin, Scenery and costumes by Jürgen Rose, Lighting reconstruction by Ralf Merkel, Pianists: Koji Attwood, Nimrod Pfeffer, Emily Wong.

Julie Kent as Marguerite Gautier, Roberto Bolle as Armand Duval, Veronika Part as Manon Lescaut, Eric Tamm as Des Grieux, Jared Matthews as Gaston Rieux, Victor Barbee as Monsieur Duval, Mary Mills Thomas as Nanina, Marguerite’s maid, Clinton Luckett as The Duke, Xiomara Reyes as Prudence Duvernoy, Hee Seo as Olympia, Julio Bragado-Young as Count N., Nimrod Pfeffer as A pianist, April Giangeruso and Luis Ribagorda as A married couple, Wes Chapman as Auctioneer, Beau Fisher as His assistant, and the Company as Workers at the Auction, Manon’s Admirers, Audience and Ball Guests, Marguerite’s Admirers, Party Guests, and Marguerite’s Servants.

“Lady of the Camellias” was presented by the Stuttgart Ballet at the Weurttemberg Staatstheatre, Stuttgart, Germany in November 1978. Its scene is an auction, where Marguerite Gautier’s furnishings are being sold, after her death. She was a wealthy courtesan. Nanina, her servant, arrives with a diary, and Monsieur Duval and his son Armand are there as well. Armand collapses in grief. Armand tells his story, which is this ballet. There’s a ballet within a ballet, an excerpt of” Manon Lescaut”, and Marguerite Gautier watches with horror at Manon's casual infidelity. Armand Duval is introduced to Marguerite by Gaston Rieux, but Armand imagines his fate unfolding like that of Des Grieux.

Marguerite invites Armand to her apartment, with his friend, Gaston, the courtesan Prudence, and Prudence’s escort, Count N. Marguerite is aware that she’s terminally ill, has a coughing attack, but decides to have an affair with Armand and keep it a secret, in order to comfort herself with luxury. As Marguerite is a busy courtesan, Armand is always waiting and follows her to the country, where she was to meet the Duke. Marguerite continues to party in the country, until Armand and the Duke confront each other. Monsieur Duval visits Marguerite and begs her to leave his son, and because of her love, she agrees. Armand waits for Marguerite, but Nanina brings him a letter that Marguerite went back to Paris, where Armand arrives to see her with the Duke.

Later, in Paris, Marguerite encounters Armand, who vengefully seduces Marguerite’s friend, Olympia. When Marguerite finally visits Armand, she begs him to end his affair with Olympia, which he does, but Marguerite, in a fever, returns again to her courtesan lifestyle. Now she leaves Armand for the second time. Armand sees Marguerite at a gala ball and publicly tosses cash at her. Marguerite collapses. Back at the auction, present time, Armand imagines joining Marguerite at the theatre, to see “Manon Lescaut”, which has overlapping themes. In the dream, Marguerite leaves the theatre with the same ballet characters, and the two couples, from “Lady of the Camellias” and “Manon Lescaut” leave together, dancing in a fever. Marguerite writes in her diary one last time, and gives it to Nanina for Armand. She dies alone, and Armand closes the diary. (ABT Program Notes)

Without doubt, Lady of the Camellias, now in its second year at Ballet Theatre, is one of the most gorgeous new ballets ever staged, and I looked forward to seeing it again, all year. I wish the program notes or ABT’s website listed the specific Chopin works played by the three pianists (Koji Atwood, Nimrod Pfeffer, Emily Wong), during the three Acts. Perhaps the Company can create a CD of this ballet, to be bought in their shop. This is an intoxicating ballet, infused with history, literature, and romantic drama. It’s not for the cold at heart. It’s for all those who have loved and lost. There’s a constant yearning inherent in Neumeier’s choreography, with a rushing, dizzy, angst-infused motion. Mirrors are critical, both literal and figurative. An actual upright mirror shows the audience Julie Kent’s (Marguerite’s) vision of despair and distress, and an actual ballet within the ballet (excerpted Manon Lescaut) mirrors Marguerite’s sense of shame and impending doom. Extra Principal dancers are brought in for the excerpted ballet vision, and it takes at least two viewings of this ballet to fully absorb the complex plotline and full cast of characters. This is not Cinderella This is a mature story with literary and psychological structures.

Unfortunately, I was only able to catch one performance of Camellias this season, due to scheduling issues, with Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle, its premiere cast from 2010. Ms. Kent moved with grief-filled lethargy, and her silent coughing attacks were evocative of Garbo in the film, Camille. Her disgust with Count N. (Julio Bragado-Young) was visibly poignant, and her overwhelming desire for Armand Duval (Roberto Bolle) was quintessentially theatrical. In their various pas de deux, Mr. Bolle lifted, tossed, turned, and carried Ms. Kent with remarkable ease and affect. When he sought revenge for her seeming rejection (she had promised Armand’s father, Monsieur Duval, Victor Barbee, that she’d abandon him, so her tainted past did not ruin his future), Mr. Bolle was conflicted and never did complete the side stage seduction of Olympia (Hee Seo). When he arrived at the post-death auction of Marguerite’s estate, at the beginning of the ballet, there was a shadow in his face, a palpable darkness in his demeanor.

Ms. Kent, a master of story ballet, becomes her character, and tonight she WAS Marguerite. Ms. Kent seems every season to dance and portray characters with even stronger skill and focus, a praiseworthy prima ballerina. She bonded psychically with Veronica Part, tonight’s Manon Lescaut, partnered by Eric Tamm, a rising Corps dancer. Ms. Part and Ms. Kent couldn’t be farther apart in physique or style, and the same could be noted for Mr. Bolle and Mr. Tamm, but the literary comparison of two “high society ladies of the night”, and the two conflicted lovers of those ladies is fascinating, obvious to Mr. Neumeier. Victor Barbee, Ms. Kent’s real life partner, was true to the role of Armand’s father, forcing Marguerite to write false letters of rejection. Marguerite rejected Armand twice, once in the country, and once in Paris. Ms. Part and Mr. Tamm had small roles, dancing alone and together with Marguerite and Armand, but they were always charismatic and stunning. The Ball scene, where Manon is carried about in a gown by numerous men, is riveting.

Julio Bragado-Young, one of the finest character actors in the Company, was at one point in a pointed hat at a Ball, a metaphorical fool, and he carried himself with aplomb. Jared Matthews, as Gaston Rieux and Marguerite’s friend, seemed to enjoy a sexy whip. Ms. Reyes, as Prudence, was coy and unrestrained, dancing with rapid abandon. Hee Seo, as Olympia, was refined, yet presented with convivial sensuality. Clinton Luckett was The Duke, and Wes Chapman the Auctioneer, completing a first-rate cast. Jürgen Rose’s scenery and costumes are exemplary, never over-detailed, but iconically retro Parisian or countryside. Costume materials glitter and catch the eye. Ballet Theatre should consider a similar, Golden Parisian Ball, with guests invited to dress in such attire. The Company was sparkling, as Ball Guests and Partygoers. Ormsby Wilkins kept the Orchestra bubbly or melancholy, depending on the moment. During the numerous piano solos, Chopin filled the House. Kudos to John Neumeier, tonight’s cast, and the three pianists, and kudos to Chopin.

Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle
in "Lady of the Camellias"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at