Choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot and his irrepressible company of young dancers has taken a time out from their ongoing spate of story ballets with the company’s newest work, Choré. Part homage to American dance, part episodic dance extravaganza, Choré looks at American dance iconography but through the values of European-style dance theater. In a sense Choré turns the tables on American companies like Hubbard Street, the now defunct Cedar Lake Ballet, and others whose repertories were deeply invested in franchising dance from the Euro Zone. Maillot takes his distinctly European view of theater and dance conventions and applies them to American themes. The result is an engrossing and entertaining work filled with stylish costuming and visual appeal. Even with a generous compliment of borrowed material and familiar contexts, America viewed from Europe looked entirely more serious and often bleaker than usual.
The work in five sequences (something like scenes) was backed by original compositions including a terrific opening scene set to sections from Danny Elfman’s noirish music from Serenada Schizophrana. If that opening was the original touchstone for Choré it set a high standard that much of the rest of the seventy five minute ballet never quite lived up to. The setup here was a kind of showdown between Fred Astaire (dressed in tails but with the face blacked out by a mask) and Gene Kelly (open collar sport polo and high-cuffed pants). Riffing on both dancers, the sequence titled Splendour and Miseries placed solo turns against an ensemble of thirteen dancers divided by Astaire and Kelly styles. Looking sharp and American in the Kelly role was the buoyant Lucien Postlewaite.
Other sections delved into actual movie making narratives, including a clever section that reprised the look of the Busby Berkeley production numbers. Using a huge suspended mirror canted over floor canvases Maillot and set designer Dominique Drillot gave us the iconic kaleidoscoping overhead views from the famed Berkeley floor shows. The most intense duos surfaced in Landscape of Ashes, a post war mise en scéne which was paired with John Cage’s music for Prelude and Meditation. Shining in the central duo were Postlewaite and Bernice Coppieters who took Maillot’s theater ballet movement and invested it with durable emotion.
The title of the finale gave everything away. After dance, there is yet more dance was a full-company romp that evolved into a stagey closing production number and curtain call. It was reminiscent of the great American musicals and showed off Maillot’s exuberant company with upbeat effect. The music blended excerpts from the Astaire musical “The Band Wagon” and a joyous original closing review composed by Daniel Ciampolini. When the clouds finally parted, Maillot showed he could close with the best of them.
(The reviewed performance took place on February 13, 2016 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Costumes, Philippe Guillotel. All choreography by company Artistic Director Jean-Christophe Maillot. Please follow the links to read about Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Lac” and “Cinderella” at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The performance played to taped music.)