Last weekend, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet brought their production of ‘Moulin Rouge’ to the Touhill stage. The ballet which premiered in Minneapolis, 2009, deviates from the plotline of the Baz Luhrman film. What could be a better base for a new ballet than the most famous cabaret in history- the birthplace of new dances such as the Cancan and the Quadrille? Set in Paris during the time of the so-called ‘bohemian revolution’, the city and the Moulin were rife with the spirit of experimentation. For artists, Paris was the place to be and therefore,for art-lovers, the 2013 performance must share that exhilarating creativity. Location Location Location.
Much of the show lived up to the hype. The sets and lighting were phenomenal, the costumes colorful and fantastic, and the dancers were of course, exquisite. Each was a perfect ballet specimen of hyper-extended slender legs, beautifully arched feet, a freak of flexibility and strength. Across the board, the men were not only dazzling in technique but each brought a wonderful array of character to the stage. Dmitri Dovgoselets, as Matthew (or Christian for the movie fans) was romatic and starry-eyed, Eric Nipp as Zidler was appropriately cold and domineering. He looked a bit like an evil Willy Wonka, like Gene Wilder’s dancing alter-ego. I was a bit disappointed with the lead tango male in the second act as I felt he could have employed a bit more raw aggression in a technically correct but rather passionless performance. The female leads were stunning. Jo-ann Sundermeier was sweet and flirty as Nathalie and Yayoi Ezawa was a glimmer of delight every time she took the stage. Sophia Lee as La Goulue was the real scene stealer, and not just because of the red Kathy Griffin-esque wig. She was the most dynamic dancer of the evening, employing a perfect mix of intensity, fluidity, and drama. Her a la second turns weren’t too shabby either. A few of the women in the corps, while dancing well, didn’t quite bring the personality to the role of Diamond Dog. They looked a little dull, without sensuality or desperation. Perhaps they just needed a good polishing. All in all, these are all masters of the craft and just watching them walk is beautiful enough, let alone the incredible pirouettes and displays of extension.
It’s a good thing that I enjoy the physical execution of even simple steps otherwise I fear the ballet might have been rather boring. The choreography was incredibly flat and predictable. In many moments, I felt like I was watching a watered-down version of better ballet scenes. In the opening, Nathalie with her group of female friends reminded me of a less charming Swanilda from Coppelia, while dancing with the Top Hats reminded me of a slightly more provocative Aurora in the Rose Adagio– but without the incredible attitude promenades. The pas de deux was so reminiscent to the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet that I wasn’t sure if Jorden Morris, the choreographer, was making some kind of weak joke.I don’t think I could have taken another cabriole derriere from any of the men, no matter how good they were. The old Petipa-esqu formula of doing something to the right side, the left side, the right side, then run to the diagonal is tired and boring now in 2013. I forgive the old ballets for the boring Pantomime sequences and formulas because it’s a part of history and a tradition of ballet culture in these appropriate masterpieces. A new work should be new, especially something like Moulin Rouge. What an opportunity to be bold, daring, sensual, aggressive! It’s a choreographer’s dream. I could not believe how G rated it was with the exception of two garter-clad derriere flashes from the women. The show was entirely devoid of tension, of passion, of creativity. I was shocked that all that was given to these fantastic dancers in a scene supposed to be all about seduction was simple echappe. No stripper, even a ballet version, is going to make a living off of that! It was akin to a boring basic ballet class with old-school pantomime and predictable lifts in predictable patterns. One girl from the right upstage corner, one girl from the left upstage corner- maybe a basic press lift down the line. Why would you set one gorgeous female dancer right on center (the model) with absolutely nothing to do for an entire scene while the two men are stuck with incredibly hard yet unimaginative stuff behind a huge art easel where we can’t even see them? Especially disappointing was the tango number which I liked for the first few bars then realized that the entire group was going to do the entire thing together, without any structuring of group. There was no architecture to any of the stage pictures. If only we could send the choreographer back in time to Paris, get him drunk on absenthe, and hopefully inspired by the spirit of the Moulin.
I admit that I am a huge fan of the movie so I probably went into the ballet with extremely high expectations. From the incredible dancers, the setting, the costumes I got all of the beauty that I was hoping to find. The production lacked the freedom, truth, and love that my worn-out DVD boasts. The music hardly set the tone and the choreography did nothing for a beautiful story and wonderful dancers. The show was not a romantic and exhilarating romp to Paris, a magical time-travel to the Bohemian Revolution. It was instead, a three-hour flashback to a stiff, old-fashioned ballet that could have taken place anywhere at any time. I would choose my St. Louis apartment and DVD over that.