Community theater, community ballet theater, has a special place in the hearts of a lot of real New Yorkers, many of whom regularly seek it out as a supplement to "big house" productions. It's always a given that the presenter will have to do more with less - usually with much, much less - usually with artists who have multiple jobs, struggle to pay for their own shoes, often have to pay for their daily classes at $15 a shot, but never question why they must skip a meal or walk across town instead of taking a bus, or allow the utility company to cut off their service.
Haglund remembers the days when all he ate were four bananas - because they were 4 for a $1 - which left him money for class. He had an acquaintance who slept in the park during summer trips to New York so that he could save up money for classes. All small sacrifices when one considers the high value of the privilege of participating in such an extraordinary art form.
Some people, including the majority of critics, are unable to appreciate the value of community ballet theater, because they generally only count the revolutions in pirouettes and assess the height of extensions when they attend performances. They are basically clueless when it comes to realizing the value of what they are seeing or recognizing the accomplishment of the artists under such difficult circumstances.
There's not much community ballet theater left in New York these days - except for all the Nutcracker productions. Most small venue "ballet" performances are performed in the contemporary language of a very limited ballet vocabulary, weak in syntax, that combines acrobatics with cheerleading movements. It pretty much amounts to a lot of creative vomit. Choreographers try to push the idea that any and every creative act is art and that by spurning the syntax and vocabulary of ballet, they are somehow moving the ballet art form forward. It mostly amounts to a bad joke.
Last evening Haglund attended the Lumiere Ballet's presentation of El Cid, which was choreographed by the company's co-founder, Venti Petrov, and performed by Petrov along with artists of wide ranging talents and experiences. Some had major professional ballet experience, some regional and community ballet experience, some musical theater experience, and one found ballet after a stint as a mutual fund analyst. Never mind that the suitability requirements for ballet are even stricter than in securities and that taking a bad risk while dancing can be more embarrassing than a bad stock choice - the transition from business to arts is unusual and gutsy.
From most standpoints, El Cid was successful. El Cid was the warrior who conquered the Moors to eventually win and govern Valencia. As the program notes by Edward Lewine explained, he could have been a fighter for a united Spain or small-time warlord, or perhaps some combination of both. Following his death, his fame and transformation to folk hero began with the penning of a Medieval poem. It's fantastic material for a story ballet, and contains all of the dramatic elements needed to fill an entire evening length production.
Composer Jules Massenet was captivated by the story which inspired him to write some of his most beautiful music. His suite "El Cid" is just extraordinary, and Petrov has selected many of its most memorable melodies for his choreography.
Petrov's choreography and staging were refreshing, creative, and showed considerable craftsmanship in stringing together steps to convey passion and drama - all in a most musical fashion. He, like another community story ballet maker, Francis Patrelle, has achieved what the common garden variety of New York contemporary choreographer has been unable to achieve: creating a new ballet work using the ballet vocabulary, ballet syntax, and a narrative structure.
Throughout the choreography, one sensed that it would all benefit from more dancers. Where three or four women performed ensemble work, Haglund envisioned a group twice the size. Ditto with the warriors. There was a broad range of technical ability among the dancers, but they all succeeded in dispatching the choreography competently and infusing it with the required drama.
Gabriela Gonzales as Jimena, the female central character, was impressive technically and dramatically. She sucked the audience into her passion and misery and was musically expressive. Venti Petrov as El Cid perhaps choreographed more ambitiously than his physical conditioning could keep up with. At times, it was a little like listening to Burt Bacharach sing his own songs. As fantastic as the songs were, you wished Dionne Warwick or Gene Pitney was singing them. Nevertheless, you listened intently and enjoyed them.
Floriane Zaccaria as The Infanta made a nice contrast with Gonzales's Jimena. The warriors (Josh Christopher, Igor Konyukhov, Christian Serrano, and Andrew Taft) had more than respectable elevation in their jumps. Prayla Cuomo, Lalasa Cuomo, Traci Finch, Aina Tadokoro as the Ladies-in-Waiting danced well as an ensemble. In an all too brief appearance, Alex Tressor as Don Diego (El Cid's father) stoically accepted a glove slapping to his face.
Fadi Khouri, Joseph Garland, Jocelyn Delifer, Samuel Humphreys, Jeremy Canade, Tanner Schwartz, Ariane Mahler, Irene Prziwara, and Natalia Brillante rounded out the cast and contributed to an all around solid effort.
Petrov expanded this production from a one-act version presented last year at the New York Conservatory of Dance. It would be nice if he continued to tinker and refine El Cid and eventually presented it again. Haglund enjoyed the performance immensely and was touched by the artists' commitment and energy. Here's a little Giuseppe Zanotti Easter Pump Bump Award for the entire cast: